God is calling us to be ambassadors of Christ in this city - Bishops Christmas Day sermon
Christmas Morning 2019 - Chelmsford Cathedral
‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the Messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, your God reigns.’ (Isaiah 52. 7)
Sometimes good news comes from the most unlikely people and at the most unlikely times. So, the messengers for the greatest news of all are shepherds, considered little more than vagabonds and outcasts in their society, people whose testimony would not be accepted in a court of law, those who were outside the normal ordering of polite society. And the place? Bethlehem, least of all the cities.
The shepherds themselves heard the news from angels. As did Mary, when the angel Gabriel tells her that she has been called to be the Mother of the Lord. Joseph has an even less reliable and far more unlikely source of information to depend on: a dream in which he is told to support Mary and take her for his wife, for the child that is born in her is from God.
In this past week or so I have found myself reflecting quite a lot – and being asked on several occasions – how I came to know and receive the good news of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. I won’t give you the full answer here, but it is interesting for me to remember that I had a dream when I was a child that caused me to wonder who God is and how God was calling me; and then I received the good news from a number of people in a number of disparate and unlikely ways: my sister joining the Girl Guides and being drawn into the life of God‘s church; an RE teacher who when she spoke about the Christian faith it was evident to all of us that, for her, this was more than just a subject on a curriculum, she believed this stuff; and a church in Leigh-on-Sea that welcomed me in; and my Grandma’s best friend whom I called Auntie though she wasn’t a real auntie, a devout Roman Catholic whom I discovered, on the day of my ordination, had prayed for me and for my family every single day of my life when she went to mass.
Who do you remember? Whose are the lovely feet who brought you the message of peace, whose witness and testimony and example shaped your life, who brought you – as it were - to the stable at Bethlehem; who helped you under the lintel of the door to see in the Christ child God’s hope for the world and a whole new way of seeing you own life too, for you are child of God as well; and then to the foot of the cross to see even the sorrows and the savagery of life held, embraced, confounded; and to this table, set in the midst of the world, where in bread and wine this Christmas and every day, the reign of God is celebrated, declared and, in bread and wine, received: the food of angels and rations for the journey through life?
Who told you this story? Who led you in this way? Give thanks for them this Christmas. They were your shepherds and your angels.
And listen to your dreams.
2020 will be a year of change and transition for our nation. And who knows what lies in store for you beyond tomorrow?
Our leaders are calling us to be one nation and we must put behind us the divisions which may have separated us in the past. The Christian faith requires nothing less.
But we must also remember that one nation, for us Christians, also means one world and one humanity. The decisions we make here in this country touch and shape the lives of people in other countries. We cannot properly look after ourselves unless we are also taking account of the needs of others. And this must be true in every aspect of our lives: in our nation, but also in our families and our communities.
The Christian faith is always universal and always particular and local.
The angels sang of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people. But they also sang it on one particular night as one new star rose and one child was born and to one group of shepherds in one particular place.
The God who is everywhere becomes the God who is somewhere – the somewhere of Bethlehem; and the somewhere of your life.
And for a purpose: the purpose of being known to everyone everywhere out of and from all these particular somewheres.
So, finally, just as we remember with joy the witness of the shepherds and the faithfulness of the holy family and the peace of the Christ child; and as we remember those who shared the good news with us, so we recognise that God is calling us to be those who receive this message of peace today and those who share it with others, ambassadors of Christ in this city, in this time, across our nation and across our world. Just as God has woven into the story of our lives the witness of others in all their beautiful particularity, so he longs to use us, and be alive in us, to show Christ to the world. Ours are the feet that are called to tread the highways and byways and mountains and networks of Essex and East London, and for me in due course Yorkshire and all points north.
Before you open the pressies, uncork the fizz, pull the crackers, and get stuck into the goose, consider this: we are the unlikely people that Christ is calling today. This is the unlikely city where he wishes to begin again his work of grace.