Almighty God, you have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth: accept our heartfelt praise as we worship you, our Saviour and our eternal God.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; •
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his name; •
tell out his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations •
and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; •
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are but idols; •
it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6 Honour and majesty are before him; •
power and splendour are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; •
ascribe to the Lord honour and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; •
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; •
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10 Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king. •
He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
11 Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; •
let the sea thunder and all that is in it;
12 Let the fields be joyful and all that is in them; •
let all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.
13 For he comes, he comes to judge the earth; •
with righteousness he will judge the world
and the peoples with his truth.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Sermon on Christmass Day
Now the parties should really begin, shouldn’t they? Today is the Feast of the Incarnation and starts the Twelve Days of Christmass. Forget Santa Claus, his elves, the overindulgences of office parties, everything the television has been foisting upon us during the last eight weeks or more, the trite songs of wishing every day is Christmass as they blare to encourage shopping. Today we keep Christmass with our families close. We enjoy the holidays with our loved ones, for the most part, don’t we? Today we can practice that christian love, making ready for the new year of peace to all.
I think we should now remember the child born in the midst of a time of terror. Let us celebrate with joy that God is with us in the Christ, whatever the situation. Let us rejoice in the hope we now have because of Christmass.
Yesterday I mentioned the infinite possibility of the new-born child and I would like to start there, with the infant Christ in the manger. This is the image we wake to on Christmass morning, isn’t it? Of course we honour our loved ones with presents whatever the cost, but we remember that our giving to our loved ones is just what those shepherds did two thousand years ago when they left the fields on that cold and frosty night or later on what the magi did when they followed their star to Bethlehem.
Our waking thoughts this morning were not of the profit we can make from the deal, but the love we have received from those with whom we are to exchange those presents. Our giving of presents is not a reflection of the political reality of deals which has oppressed us for over a year. No, our gifts on Christmass Day are not transactions, they are offerings without expectation of an exchange of equivalent items. We are not making deals on Christmass Day, or are we? Do you think that Christmass is just one huge potlach? – I may be referring to something you may not know about. Does anyone else know what a potlach is? The native americans of the northwest of the continent used to outdo each other with gifts – once a gift had been given, you had to return a more expensive gift (it became a gift race, not an arms race). I suppose it is like when the King or Queen visits – they always require such lavish hospitality. How can one out-do regal hospitality? – But we try in any case, don’t we? Christmass is not this sort of potlach, is it? Christmass is an opening of hearts to one another, with no thought of anything in return – a pure form of charity, agape, christian love.
We have woken to a new day – the newest of mornings, as the hymn goes – today, a day unlike any other during the year. We are celebrating the Christ-child as he presents himself, as we present him, in the manger. There he is in infinite possibility – let alone the majesty – of a new-born. There he lies before us in his finite transcendence. There he is in his very real existence so we can ponder and wonder.
Christmass Day is the day we wake up that new morning and we place ourselves in the world as if for the first time. We individually awake to our ownmost possibility,that of each and every one of us. This is a great mystery, isn’t it? That my fate is infinite. There are no bounds to what I am in my self, the self that I choose to be even though I have been thrown into these particular circumstances.
In essence, today we know that we are all like Christ at the beginning of life. With Christ we hold the infinite universe in the minutest of hands. No one who gazes at a new-born, whose little finger is grasped and tugged by the infant’s tiny hand, doubts this. We are filled with wonder as we gaze down, wondering what the future will be for that wee bairn.
We wonder what our own future is on this most glorious of mornings, as we look into the manger, don’t we? What one possibility can be my very own? Which one of the infinite possibilities will I take to my heart authentically?
These are the thoughts of a Christmass morning for me.I think of my immediate possibility of turkey with all the trimmings, the spare place set for the stranger who may come, opening of presents from far and near, the tokens of love from friends and family tumbling anew into our hearts today. I will eat my fill as we have for the last forty years together but feel as if this is the first day of creation. In the midst of traditional Christmass, I am renewed – a new man, yet again. – When I was a student I read about traditional cultures where the myths, symbols and rituals were repeated exactly the same as they always had been, but they were the renewal of the world, precisely because they were done in the way they happened at the beginning of the creation, their very own world. – My repeating of the elements of Christmass Day is much like rituals of those traditional societies. I renew my world with these comforting routines – church, the turkey and all its trimming, the opening of presents that unite me to loved ones near and far – and I hope that the world will be one of peace and joy to all.
And I say this is the case because this morning I looked into the manger to find Christ staring up at me from amidst the warming straw. On this cold winter’s day I have been enlivened, fired up even, by seeing the innocence of a baby giving me hope in my quest for my ownmost possibility. I realise that I can find what I ultimately am in the absolutely new of the unknown just as in the repetition of the traditional, that boring ever-the-same, beloved of the very reactionary conservative. However, I realise that it is neither the strange nor the familiar, but I realise that my engagement with the tradition and world around me makes the world new this morning. I make the world my own as I settle into the tradition which reflects my very real world around me.
That is what the manger and my looking at an infant has done for me today, to bring me right into the present where life is to be found. Perhaps this is what Bishop Rachel is trying to do with her LIFE campaign, to raise everything into the foreground where we can live it anew every morning. Jesus promised life in all its fullness – that is what I have today, even if it is the same ritual of so many years, with the ancient symbols hanging all around us, as I tell the old, old story of Jesus Christ to myself and to you as you listen to my rambling story of a new creation here today.
So let the Christmass parties begin in authentic earnest. Everything up to today has been a practice run for our celebrations. Now we can open our hearts with our presents – we can make the history of salvation our own by sharing it with all, whoever and wherever they are. Now we can really enjoy the closeness of friends and family and even strangers, as we gather everyone together during these twelve days of Christmass, and in the tradition of this benefice until we light up our churches on Candlemass.