CHRISTMAS SERMON PREACHED BY BISHOP MARK, BISHOP OF JARROW AT THE MIDNIGHT MASS AT ST PAUL’S CHURCH JARROW CHRISTMAS 2016 AND ON CHRISTMAS MORNING AT HMP FRANKLAND
Inevitably Christmas this year is overshadowed by the events in Berlin. But it would be sad if we forgot all that has gone on and is going on in Aleppo.
One of the stories of Aleppo which has been scarcely reported, is the story of those who could have left but chose to stay; chose to stay because they believed it would have been wrong to have deserted those who could not escape. I read only the other day about a group of Catholic monks – Jesuits – who had chosen to stay – and indeed had had their monastery hit by gunfire.
And as I think of those who have chosen to stay, I wonder what that has meant for those who could not escape; to have in their midst people who refused to abandon them.
Has it helped them to feel slightly comforted, or reassured, or just a bit less alone?
Many of us will have our own experiences of those who have stuck with us
- When we were ill
- When our lives had got into a bit of a mess
- When we had done things we should not have done
Some of us have been lucky enough to have had people who have not abandoned us at those difficult times; people who have been with us through thick and thin
When the first Christians talked about Jesus they sometimes called him Emmanuel – which means God with us.
(And it is a pity in church that we do not read the first chapter of Matthew often enough where it quotes Isaiah who says “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name Emmanuel – which means God is with us” and St John echoes that in tonight’s Gospel where he says to us “The Word became flesh and lived among us. He pitched his tent among us. He moved into our street. He moved into our street because what he wanted most of all in the whole world was to be with us.
The God who made the whole world comes to earth as a baby – just to be with us.
That is what you see in the manger. God being with us
God is with us and – and this is the most important thing – he is not going away
“I’m not going away” is one of the most important things we can ever hear. It is particularly important – it really matters – when we are feeling down, or a bit alone, or if it seems everything around us is falling apart.
That can feel reassuring. It can make us feel less afraid
He is not going away because he not only longs to be with us, but is totally committed to us. He is not going away
And that somehow is a reason to be thankful. In a world that can make us feel afraid; where we live with our own anxieties and uncertainties, there is something for which to be thankful; that the God who made heaven and earth wants to do nothing other than to come to be with us; not to take away our fear or anxiety but to be with us and alongside us in it.
And on Christmas night we have reason to thankful and when we live life thankfully life is somehow different. We see the good and get less bogged down in the sadness and difficulty and fear
So, I wonder, is Christmas – and of course in Church Christmas goes on to Candlemas on February 2nd – a time to try out a bit of an experiment; to see what would happen if I lived my life thankfully. If last thing at night, I stopped just for a moment to see what there was to be thankful for in the day. If first thing in the morning, I thanked God for the gift of a new day
And in a world which can get into a bit of a muddle, I dare to try to live thankfully because the God who made the heavens and the earth wants above all else to be with me and shows that, in the Christ child in the manger.
Never again, do I need to feel alone.