“Christmas Asks That We Stick Around and Think of Others at Home and Abroad” – Christmas Day Sermon of Archbishop Michael Jackson
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Christmas Day 2017
Christmas asks that we take the opportunity to combine right thinking and right doing and that we continue this long after the festive season has passed, Archbishop Michael Jackson, said in his Christmas Day sermon, which he delivered during the Festival Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning.
The Archbishop said that the Scriptures point us towards consistency and continuity; prophecy and possibility; and incarnation and inclusion and this must all take place against the backdrop of a secular society, which, he pointed out, includes people of faith as well as people of no faith.
“We merrily sing: Love came down at Christmas and hope that somebody is doing something about it; that it may be happening somewhere and that it may be true and that someone else may be doing it as we are singing about it. It is not that we are bad people; it is more that we are not joining the dots of exclusion and rejection in a society which is avowedly secular and belongs within the love of God at the same time. The problem is with the direction of travel the word: secular has taken. The words secular and religious in Ireland have settled into an effective trench warfare and verbal stand off that does little to disclose or enhance the common good of those who believe in God and those who do not believe in God. The word: secular properly refers to activities and concepts that affect life in this world, life as we know it; people of faith are therefore just as secular as people not of faith! The pressure points seem now to emerge around issues to do with educational patronage, hospitals and the content of Referenda,” he stated.
Archbishop Jackson said that in a democracy, it is important that respectful discourse continue to be developed and enriched. “It takes all parties to do this intentionally in a world of increasingly self–generated communications; it is important that individuals be furnished with sufficient objective information to make decisions and that, while lobbyists inevitably will seek to influence the thought pattern of voters, the voters themselves create and sustain the freedom to decide without undue influence. It seems important also, in the overall perspective of civic life, that religion as a system should not become the predictable mouthpiece of the negative; it seems equally important that the secular reaction to religion engage with its presuppositions while at the same time, in all likelihood, disagreeing with them; and furthermore it seems equally important that religious people take the scruples and the principles of secular people seriously and attentively,” he explained.
He contended that a religion that contains within its armoury of foundational texts statements like:
‘The truth will set you free.’ (St John 8.32)
‘Baptized into union with Christ Jesus, you have all put on Christ like a garment. There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female; for you are all one person in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.27,28)
is inviting both question and dialogue. And the three criteria outlined above should hold for this discourse as for any other discourse.
Focusing on conditions facing people seeking asylum in Ireland and people who are homeless, the Archbishop reminded the congregation that behind every statistic there is a human face and that we are all called to action.
“Words and phrases like Direct Provision, Homelessness, Dying on our streets are ideas we had hoped were gone from our vocabulary and from our national life. They sit ill with the expectations of a modern democracy that prides itself on equality of opportunity and progress for all. Regrettably, this is not the case as we mark and celebrate Christmas 2017 today. Behind every one of these words, there is the face of a human being hoping against experience for something better and living in fear, not so much for the new year ahead, for such long–term thinking is an unthinkable luxury, but for the here and now of today. It is easy in a society, where statistics are selective, for the human face of suffering and of sadness to be unseen. It is easy in a society, where economic recovery is a pressing national priority, for the fractured and the fragmented to be forgotten and further dispossessed. Efficiency must not replace love, as if Compassion Provision and Care Provision are for the religious and for those who cannot cope in the fast lane. Vulnerability lies at the core of the human person and of the human Jesus Christ. Need and its cry for response form the harmony and the cacophony of the human person in distress. In the incarnation, these two blend and mingle. In the resurrection, they rise in glory. In the everyday, they call us to action and to altruism,” he said.
The Archbishop concluded: “Jesus Christ came to live on earth at the time we celebrate as Christmas. He entered into vulnerability, migration, warfare and politics as the Son of God and the Son of Man. The invisibility of need and the failure of recognition are nothing new. The same Gospel gives us other words which stir our hearts and our consciences: … he made his home among us. (St John 1.14) Even though he was rejected, he stuck around – that, after all, is what abiding is. Christmas asks of us that we also stick around – after Christmas; that at home and abroad we think of others as well as of ourselves. Christmas asks of us that we take the opportunity to combine orthodoxy and orthopraxy, right thinking and right doing. A secular society – as we in the churches have ourselves largely thrown to the winds the word secular as if we somehow are something quite different – might then be enabled to take us somewhat more seriously as a partner in the dialogue of life. We also need to commit to taking them more seriously. And doesn’t Irish history so often, time after time, boil down to us and them?”