Christmas - light in the darkness

A Christmas sermon for 2013 preached by Fr James Heard

Seeing you all on this cold dark winter night with candles lit offers a picture of hope. The hope is that in the midst of our world, a world often filled with darkness – the darkness of hatred, violence, war, greed, corruption – in the midst of this darkness, there are lights shining out. Lights of peace, compassion, hope, love and joy.

This week we have remembered and celebrated a person who, for the whole of his life, stood for the light. The light that we are all God’s children, created in the image of God and we are all precious in his sight. We are all loved unconditionally regardless of position in life, of where you live, what car you drive, regardless of your colour, or age, or gender, sexuality or even your religion. All humanity is precious in God’s sight – all humanity should be afforded dignity and respect.

Nelson Mandela saw this. He had the vision of a prophet, a vision of a nation not defined by whether you were white, coloured or black (in Apartheid terms). A vision where all lived peaceably, where diversity was celebrated rather than suppressed, a vision of a South Africa where children could play without fear of violence.

He resisted the violent option and was determination to reconcile all in his country, even those who had oppressed him and his fellow black South Africans. He would also do things like telephoning foreign heads of state when they were experiencing domestic problems, and he would drop in on political opponents when they were in hospital.

What a remarkable man: not perfect, none of us are, but someone who lived for justice and reconciliation.

He pointed us towards this truth of the gospel, that all people are created as uniquely precious children of God. Mandela drew his inspiration from a deeply held faith – faith in a baby born in an obscure village in Palestine 2,000 years ago, and who left the world forever changed.

Christmas is the celebration of the advent of salvation into the human condition. Into our condition, yours and mine. The message of Christmas is simply this: God became present in the birth of a vulnerable, helpless little baby.

You may have a variety of feelings about the church as an institution, perhaps very negative feelings (which I share, by the way). The church can all too often be a place of exclusion, with Christians who think they have all of the answers, and who hold judgemental attitudes. Just as S Africa today hasn’t become a place of equality that Mandela would have hoped for, the church also is quite a different entity to the person of Jesus. The church will always be a bit sick/ broken. That’s because it includes human beings, fallible people, imperfect people like myself.

But be inspired by Jesus. A person who challenged power and corruption where he saw it. Yet someone who treated the ‘so called’ impure of the world with respect – despised tax collectors who colluded with Rome, the occupying power, prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans (who were despised, much like the Roma community are today in Europe). Jesus treated all those who he met with dignity, with respect, and with compassionate love. This is the person who billions of people, throughout the centuries and around the world today, are inspired by. So, whatever your view of the church, be inspired by Jesus.

Be challenged by Jesus: challenged to allow his light to shine in to the darkness of our own hearts and lives. Because darkness isn’t just ‘out there’ – in the obvious places like modern day slavery, corrupt politicians, violent conflict. Darkness, as Solzhenitsyn reminded us, runs like a line between the heart of every person, nation, and religion.

This Christmastide, we are invited to allow God’s light and love to shine into our own lives. And we are challenged to shine as lights in the world. A light that embraces our families and friends, our church and community. A love that overflows and embraces the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, the homeless and the oppressed, because we are all God’s children, loved unconditionally.

Whether you love or loathe the sentimentality and paraphernalia that surrounds Christmas, remember that it is about the divine working through human hands to change lives. I shall leave you with words from the Revd John Bell of the Iona Community tells us why:

Light looked down and saw the darkness.
“I will go there,” said light.
Peace looked down and saw war.
“I will go there,” said peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred.
“I will go there,” said love.
So he,
the Lord of Light,
the Prince of Peace,
the King of Love,
came down and crept in beside us.
Holland Park Benefice