Rev Tom Mumford
I pray that I may speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
According my Spotify ‘round up of 2020’, I am in the top 1% of Liam Gallagher’s listeners. Not something you’ll hear many priests say on Christmas morning I’m sure, but it’s true. Yes, the former Oasis frontman has helped keep me going this year, his music has reenergised me and given me confidence. But the song I can’t get out of my head at the moment is his latest single.It’s called: ‘what are you dreaming of?’ and the line that is constantly going round and round in my head goes like this: (don’t worry, I’m not going to sing it for you!) “what/are you dreaming of? Is/ it the kind of love/ that’ll be there when the world is at its worst?”
For me, Liam Gallagher gets right to the heart, here, of what it means to be human. What it is that we desire most.And actually, I think he gets right to the heart of what Christmas is really all about. Because Christmas, at its core, is about love. It is about a love that will be there and is there when the world is at its worst. It is about a love that breaks into the world when it’s broken, and transforms it. It is about a love that is not overcome by darkness, but a love that always wins. Christmas is about love. About God, who is love itself.
In the gospel reading this morning, we heard a portion of this love story. To millions, this part is the greatest of them all. It’s probably the most famous story in the world, the story of the birth of Jesus, also known as the Nativity. Now I didn’t grow up going to church, but even I knew it. And school children today, in church schools or not, still enact this story in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some of you may have even seen St Gregory’s, one of our Church of England schools, have theirs covered by a national paper. Now this part of the story is amazing, and worthy of being people’s favourite. But the thing is, we often imagine this part of the story a bit wrong. We imagine it to be a cosy story, with smiling angels, furry animals, and shepherds with tea towels on their heads. But of course it wasn’t like that at all. In reality, that first Christmas was in a context where the world was at its worst. It was set in an insignificant Roman province in a volatile Middle East. It was set in an occupied land, governed by an imperial force in cahoots with a child
murdering tyrant. And this was a refugee family, a young peasant girl who was pregnant, having to travel miles and miles. They couldn’t even find a safe place to give birth.
Why am I telling you this? Because for the holy family, when the world was at its worst, love came. Love was born, it broke into the world in the baby Jesus, and gave hope and light to the world.Yes, love that was there when the world is at its worst.
And this is Good News for us. Because this year, it really does feel like the world it’s at its worst. All of us have had our lives turned upside down. Many of us will have lost loved ones, some of us may have lost jobs or livelihoods. Many of us will have not been able to go to funerals of family members or friends. Many of us will have been more anxious, slept less, even become depressed. And now, on Christmas Day, many of us will be alone. So we need that love, that love that is there when the world is at its worst.
And that’s why Christmas is more important this year than ever before in my lifetime. That’s why, even though we can’t celebrate Christmas as we would like, we must still celebrate Christmas. Because in that, we celebrate the truth that God came and dwelt among us. That God burst in when the world was at its worst. That it is in God’s nature to come into a darkened world, to break in to his creation, and bring it light, and new hope…a new dawn. That’s just who he is. And if you look carefully enough, you’ll see it.
You’ll see it in the love offered and the sacrifice made by NHS staff, care and key workers. You’ll see it in the Zoom calls and Facetimes made around the country to lonely people today. You’ll see it in the love that strengthens, deepens, within families and friends, despite the strain and hardship of the last year, despite the suffering and the tragedy. You’ll see it, in the hope of the vaccine rollout, in the truth that the days are getting longer and the nights shorter. You’ll see it in the hope of a new world, a new life, getting ever closer.It is.
And that’s why we celebrate today. We celebrate that love that is God, who came into the world on that first Christmas, and comes to us now, when the world was at its worst. We celebrate that love that will be with us always.That love that is God in Jesus Christ, God with us.