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Press Releases / Sermon preached by the Most Reverend Michael Jackson, archbishop of Dublin, in Christ Church Cathedral, Christmas Day 2011

Sermon preached by the Most Reverend Michael Jackson, archbishop of Dublin, in Christ Church Cathedral, Christmas Day 2011

St John 1.14: So the Word became flesh; he pitched his tent among us, and we saw his glory ….

Christmas takes us right into the heart of who God is and who we are to become as gracious children of this very God. We celebrate for twelve whole days the arrival of God on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, the child of Bethlehem, the king of glory and the prince of peace. It is not the time when time is suspended. It is, rather, the time when time is extended so as to include within its embrace and understanding the totality of the eternal. We are lifted beyond our understanding and our expectation. We are held there in the embrace and the joy of God. It is the faith which God has in his creation – that is why he invests himself in it through incarnation. It is the hope which God has in his people – that is why he sends his Son to bring his people salvation from their sins. It is the love which God shares with the whole universe – that is why heaven and earth make music in response to God’s gift of God’s self. And so that great trinity of response – faith, hope and love – find their origin in the one whom they praise and sanctify.

Throughout the life and times of the people of God, the pitching of the tent signalled the abiding of God with God’s people. The presence of God and the glory of God at Christmas combine to point us forward on a great adventure with the Child of Bethlehem. God has come to be with the people of the world and to extend and expand the hearts and minds of all the people who are God’s people. God has come to invite to the banquet those whom God wants to be his guests – as they are. In God’s presence they are glorious and special already – and for this let God be praised with royal Alleluias! Reaching to the margins; living on the edge; creating space where there seems to be no room – these are not clichés. They are the things which Jesus does and they are the places where Jesus pitches his tent because he intends to be there by divine and by human right. The challenge for us as disciples of today is to abide with those whom we befriend and to offer consistency of friendship by continuing to be present with them – in the name of Jesus Christ, the child of Bethlehem and the king of justice. Christian people today are called, wherever they are, to replace margins of error by margins of embrace. To reach out from this tent and to invite in to this tent of meeting and of glory is our duty, not just at Christmas but because of Christmas. Around cathedrals and before financial centres and places of government worldwide this Christmas we see tents. They seek, in a manner new and old all in one, to hold before a fractured and hurting world a presence, a commitment and a question. The presence is of people who care. The commitment is to visible justice in the face of chaos and exploitation. The question is of apology and humility – and it is slow to come to birth. The message of solidarity chimes with the cry to be heard constructively.

The accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ draw together people with whom we are entirely familiar. But they are people who are full of surprises. There is nowhere in Scripture explicit mention of the innkeeper, but somewhere in the background there is a person who provides shelter when he has no room available. The Son of Man will continue to have nowhere he can predict to lay his head, as he makes his way purposefully around Galilee, urging people individually and in large gatherings, to see the signs of a kingdom not of this world. The angels take up again their ancient role of combination, of holding together earth and heaven, and of remaking the connections which regularly fragment and dissipate when, as human beings, we sinfully fray and frazzle the cords which enfold and embrace, empower and energize. Too readily does our own dynamic spill into the things which are internal to the church rather than being expressive of exuberant Gospel. It is essential that we grasp both the Godly urgency and the human capacity to improvise which are the sparkling characteristics of the first Christmas. These are the threads of the new life in Christ Jesus which are before us for weaving into a garment of glory for each child of God.

The shepherds must also detain us on this great day. They were ritually unclean. Jerusalem to them was far away religiously, even though it was but a short distance geographically. They spent their days and their nights among the animals who were their livelihood and their companions. Yet it is they who bring into the foreground of the Christmas story the animal creation of God and combine it with the angelic creation, its music, its harmony and its dance. They are the first human beings to greet and to grace the child of God in the little town of Bethlehem. Powerfully and unselfconsciously, they remind us that God cares little for our religious barricades, our walls of exclusion and our border posts of paranoia, however carefully we construct and maintain them. Openly and honestly, they shame us into turning once again to those whom the church has come to neglect in the fragility of birth and new life. But, most of all, they relieve the struggling individual of the crushing weight of an unbearable responsibility. They approach God as a community of hope and response. They do it together. Let us rejoice in their humanity as we glory in the humanity of God.

Words which have become distorted and perverted by the impatience and the greed of the economic imperative, words such as investment and dividend, take on new force and focus at this time. At Christmas, we think of God investing divinity in humanity and of the dividend being the glory of becoming children of God. And so does the word tent carry a deeper and wider meaning at Christmas. St John introduces the tent into his account of the arrival of the Word made flesh in the world – literally he says: God pitches God’s tent among the people who inhabit God’s earth. It is little wonder, therefore, that pitching your tent is more than staking your claim. It is the fullness and the radiance of glory suffusing and shattering the darkness which cannot either comprehend or overcome the light of truth and of love, freely given and beautifully broken.            

St Luke 2.13: Come, let us go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.

Category: Press Releases
Posted: Sunday 25th December 2011
Added By: Stuart Kinsella

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