A sermon preached by Bishop Christopher in Lincoln Cathedral on Christmas Day 2018.

May I speak in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The first verse of today’s gospel reading:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

And later in the same reading:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. 

Those of us in church last night will have heard for our gospel reading the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds with the news of the birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem.

Today we have the magnificent poem, the prologue, which begins St John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

Which later says:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

In a sense when we heard the story of the shepherds it was the breaking news – today’s gospel tell us what this news means for the world.

The opening of the prologue, ‘In the beginning was the Word...’ echoes the opening of the Book of Genesis, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...’

And what this text is saying is that there are several important things about Jesus Christ who is the Word:

  • that Jesus Christ who is the Word has always been;
  • that Jesus Christ who is the Word is in a perfect friendship with God;
  • that Jesus Christ who is the Word shares God’s divine nature.

But then we come to the climax:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

That is the revolutionary bit.

The word becoming flesh meant that the divine word which was present at the beginning of time and spoke the words of creation was expressed perfectly in a human being born 2,000 years ago – Jesus of Nazareth.

And this remains and will always remain the unique message of Christmas – that in Jesus Christ, God became one of us, so that we can become part of God. That Jesus Christ is our brother because we share the same heavenly father and those who share the same parentage are sisters and brothers together.

What does this revolutionary truth mean for us all those years later here in Lincolnshire? 

For me it means that Jesus Christ always brings the possibility of peace and reconciliation to a divided world and nation.

Of course we are divided as a nation on all kinds of political issues. But I suggest these controversies are the tip of the iceberg. Under the water there are profounder issues we need to think about.

  • What does it mean to be a sister or brother of people very different from us?
  • How can we care for people who are different from ourselves?
  • How do we manage differences in opinion that are sincerely held in our world and nation – in short, how do we learn to manage diversity?

I led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in November with 54 other people from Lincolnshire. It was my first visit and it made me think again about some of these issues in quite a different way. 

Of course we believe that Christmas expressed the love God has for each one of us no matter where we live and that this love was expressed in the gift of his son, Jesus Christ who came for all people.

We believe that, in giving of himself in Jesus Christ, God was, in the words of St Paul, reconciling the world to God.

But what I learned as I pushed my way through the heaving crowds of Jerusalem or processed to the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem or celebrated Holy Communion looking over the Sea of Galilee (and in all the other experiences we shared) was that Jesus came to a place very different from where I live and he came to a people very different from the people I know.

In fact I began to understand in a new way that Jesus came to comfort the poor and disturb the comfortable. I had known this in my head – but I began to understand this in my heart.

When I saw the conditions of life in Palestine – which haven’t changed much in 2,000 years – bleak and inhospitable countryside, obvious poverty and armed soldiers at checkpoints – I was vividly reminded that God deliberately chose to come to earth in vulnerability and poverty and danger and that he spent his life with the poor and the marginalized, the oppressed and the poor.

In choosing to be born in occupied Palestine – a poor, outlying region of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago – God showed the world that this is where he is to be found: in those who are marginalized and pushed to the edges of society.

I was reminded that those of us who are comfortable (and though we all have our moments of difficulty in life – that is all of us here this morning) we have a particular responsibility to co-operate with God to build peace in the world – international and national peace, peace within our families and allow God to bring peace into our own hearts.

If we are looking for God this Christmas, we will find that he is already waiting for us, but not necessarily in the obvious places.

Of course, God is here and will come to us acutely in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. But he comes in other ways as well.

Jesus chose not to identify himself with the places of power but with the poor and the lonely; the hungry and the homeless; the victims of prejudice and discrimination; and, in today’s terms, with those who unsettle us because they are ‘different’.

This Jesus was Jesus of Nazareth, the refugee manual worker.

This Jesus was raised by God to be Jesus Christ, the saviour of the whole world.

The consequences of the incarnation of our Lord means that we are in this together, as just like an ordinary human family we have people close to us and distant and forgotten cousins whom we hardly see.

The birth of Jesus Christ means:

  • we belong to God in Jesus Christ and
  • we belong to each other as members of the same human family
  • we belong to each other as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

We don’t belong merely to Lincolnshire or England but to the whole human family. With Jesus Christ as our brother and saviour we belong to the people God has made and loves throughout history and throughout the world.

In church terms we don’t merely belong to this beautiful cathedral, or even the diocese of Lincoln or the Church of England but to the whole Church of God.

We belong not to a cozy club of like-minded people but to a subversive organization that exists to love the world and seeks to discover Jesus Christ in the lives of others – some very different from us – and bring peace to them and ourselves.