United Dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough

General

25.12.2018

Christmas Day 2018 – Sermon of Archbishop Michael Jackson

“Incarnation introduces us to the idea of marginalisation at the centre of community…There have always been inequalities but the institutionalization of inequalities around the basics of food and shelter, of housing and human dignity runs counter to a modern and glib agenda of equality and opportunity for all.”
Christmas Day 2018 – Sermon of Archbishop Michael Jackson - “Incarnation introduces us to the idea of marginalisation at the centre of community…There have always been inequalities but the institutionalization of inequalities around the basics of food and shelter, of housing and human dignity runs counter to a modern and glib agenda of equality and opportunity for all.”
Archbishop Michael Jackson

Archbishop Michael Jackson delivered his Christmas Day sermon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, during the Christmas Festal Eucharist this morning.

In his sermon the Archbishop focused on the reflection of our contemporary world in the environment into which the Infant Jesus was born. He said that the well known words of St Luke’s Gospel tell of the glory and the miracle of the birth of divinity in our humanity.

The words of St Luke also set out an agenda that begins with creation and is still being live streamed today, he added. “These words are part of the total package. They are what we have come to expect. But they carry a further meaning beyond what reads like a focus on a single small boy who has just forced his way into the world as many small girls and boys have done and will do in the future,” the Archbishop said.

He observed that many of the issues of today can be found in the Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth: “The habitat into which the Infant God is born reflects something of the on–going relationship between different parts of creation: animal and human together form part of nature and they congregate unpredictably as do the stranger and the local; and always there is the dark storm cloud of power and violence hanging over human relations […] We are catapulted right into the realities of international life: global justice and injustice, warfare and displacement and the unthinkable human tragedy that is the child in the thick of war. The contemporary world is all there in the ancient story: ecology, power, migration; use and misuse of resources, politics and opportunity; homelessness, warfare and trafficking”.

Archbishop Jackson added that incarnation introduces to our understanding of society marginalisation at the centre of community.

“There have always been inequalities but the institutionalization of inequalities around the basics of food and shelter, of housing and human dignity runs counter to a modern and glib agenda of equality and opportunity for all. Many are not able to access these opportunities nor will they ever because inequalities have become endemic in our society. The gap between those who have more and those who have nothing grows deeper and wider and becomes institutionalized. Our public understanding of the needs of The Other grows more shallow and superficial. This is the point at which rhetoric itself drives wedges deep into the heart of reality. What people hear increasingly bears no relation to what they experience in their own life. Belief and faith, as ways of being and of living, whether religious or otherwise, are fundamental to the imagination. Imagination is life–giving to community itself. A change–driven approach to society asks a lot more of a contemporary generation in self–sufficiency and self–motivation, self–help and self–care than we have worked out. But it deprives us of specific types of relationship. More and more of life you and I have to do on our own especially if we do not work within listening distance of a spiritual community,” he stated.

For Christians living in a society with seemingly endless choice, Christmas presents a number of issues, the Archbishop said:

“Christmas introduces us to the natural world – we continue to have responsibilities for a natural world we instinctively squander; yet we are increasingly realizing that we are part of this natural world, part of its problem and not above it or owning and controlling it.

“Christmas introduces us to human exclusion – we continue to see exclusion at work in our society, despite the pleading and the advocacy of so many good people: homelessness for a whole host of reasons we hoped might long ago be eradicated, Direct Provision along with the scandal of its structured alienation both in terms of location and culture.

“Christmas introduces us to sparkling imagination – life for many of us is uphill; we see little of the dividend of the rising tide that is supposed to catch and to lift all boats; we need to make and receive imagination in community life and in individual life: because imagination is essential to integration; and integration is the corrective for exclusion.

“Christmas introduces us to peace in the midst of political intrigue – again, little seems to change with the passage of time. Often it is the individual of courage and conviction, often it is the movement of people of principle, often it is the women and the silence that speak peace to power and challenge the deafness of institutions”.

The full text of Archbishop Jackson’s Christmas Day 2018 Sermon is below:

Christmas Day Sermon, Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson

St Luke 2.12: This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

 

THE PREDICTABLE CHRISTMAS

These words from St Luke are predictable words we have heard before on numerous occasions at Carol Services and on Christmas Day. They point us, nonetheless, directly to the Christ–child of Bethlehem. Along with the opening of St John’s Gospel, the story of The Birth of Jesus in St Luke shapes the excitement of our response today to the birth of divinity in our humanity. This is a day of glory and of miracle. These words also point us to a combination of domestic and theological understanding as modern people surviving in a world awash with confusion about belonging and religion: angels and animals, parents and new, unknown friends gather around a new born child. They do so to set out an Agenda that begins with creation and is still being live–streamed today: the flourishing of the world as we know it and as it is yet to become through the free–flowing gift of goodness, marred most of all by thoughtlessness, selfishness and wickedness. These words are part of the total package. They are what we have come to expect. But they carry a further meaning beyond what reads like a focus on a single small boy who has just forced his way into the world as many small girls and boys have done and will do in the future.

THE SHEPHERDS’ FIELDS

It was not until I was in Bethlehem with another member of the diocese, as part of the link of friendship we have with The Diocese of Jerusalem, earlier in the year that these words took on a deeper resonance. We went to what are called The Shepherds’ Fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Our guide explained to us that shepherds in Ancient Israel were accustomed to wrapping in bands of cloth an unblemished lamb. This was to enable them to carry this lamb to The Temple in Jerusalem for the purpose of sacrifice at the appointed time of year. This infant–lamb was special and for a special purpose. Their instinct, our guide suggested, followed through to the Christ–child. It was perhaps their unique attempt to help Mary his mother to do the same for the child laid in the manger – to keep him safe from the coarse wood as he flailed around in early life trying to find his physical bearings in a world that was newly strange to him even though he had been present at its creation. The manger was rough–hewn. It probably had splinters in the sides. The straw would have been scratchy to a newly born child. Deep inside him, Jesus new to the earth in this human form was learning the struggle, the battle, of the cosmic in the mundane, of heaven on earth, and deep inside him he was beginning to know something of the journey of suffering and need that might lie before him. This journey was to take him to Jerusalem on many occasions. He was a pious Jew as well as being for us the Proto–Christian. This journey of duty and service would take him on one final journey to Jerusalem where death would become resurrection and where God’s new purpose for the whole of creation would unfold before those with eyes to see, just as The Scriptures had unfolded throughout his earthly ministry for those with ears to hear. He was The Lamb of God.

CHRIST AND CREATION

Creation surrounded him. Creation was his friend. Creation was his creation. Animals and humans were near to hand and angels heralded his arrival. Creation was there in force, a larger environment was disclosing itself in a picture of faith for those of faith. And they felt that they had the responsibility to tell this story as Good News. The shepherds, in all probability, shared the cave with this family, because it was where they slept between shifts in the fields. They may have taken a keen interest in the wellbeing of the small child in their midst not least out of curiosity at the incongruity, the impossibility of it all. And, in advising his mother to wrap him like this, their professional instinct for protecting the young simply kicked in. Future generations were to hail this human sacrificial lamb as The Good Shepherd. The contribution of these shepherds has written itself into the iconic picture of the shepherd; it is the shepherd as a caring leader and willing servant working from the centre of the flock and knowing sheep by name. This has now become a positive commonplace in management theory worldwide. It began in Bethlehem, the home of David. The Manger at Bethlehem is from its earliest days the gathering place of the unlikely as well as of the marginalized. The incredible happens. Perhaps Away in a manger … is not as clichéd as we have accustomed ourselves to thinking. Perhaps it contains the seeds of the radical from the outset. Responsible living has taught us that our margin is someone else’s centre and vice versa.     

CHRISTMAS AND HISTORY

Already in Bethlehem we find gathered many of the bits that matter in the world of today. The habitat into which the Infant God is born reflects something of the on–going relationship between different parts of creation: animal and human together form part of nature and they congregate unpredictably as do the stranger and the local; and always there is the dark storm cloud of power and violence hanging over human relations. The Infant God was born close to a seat of political and kingly power. It was greatly threatened by his existence. Jerusalem is not the only place that matters however. King David himself, whose son Solomon completed The Temple, came from Bethlehem. Boaz, from the Book of Ruth, was part of the family tree of the Infant God; Boaz married Ruth; Ruth was a refugee and a widow. We are catapulted right into the realities of international life: global justice and injustice, warfare and displacement and the unthinkable human tragedy that is the child in the thick of war. The contemporary world is all there in the ancient story: ecology, power, migration; use and misuse of resources, politics and opportunity; homelessness, warfare and trafficking. 

INCARNATION TODAY: BELIEF AND UNCERTAINTY

Incarnation matters to us today because of the divine commitment at the heart of the human living that was modelled by Jesus Christ. For many of us today, belief along with its uncertainty has been replaced by a rather fluid mixture of speculation and certainty instead. And somewhere along the line, belief has become fused and confused with certainty in the area of religion. That was never supposed to be the case! Speculation and certainty expose us to fear of failure and insecurity about our image in ways that belief and uncertainty do not. Believing in others and not knowing about things are the living realities of real living. This is one of the personal and psychological challenges at the core of modern living. What is more, this mixture of speculation and certainty is becoming more and more tailor–made to each individual because of the sophistication of choice and the necessity for decision–making that is forced upon us by the pace of life at which we live it. It has to be said, however, that this is a luxury that holds for the privileged few. Yet it has become the engine room of change and of policy for everyone whether we can keep up with it or not, advantaged and disadvantaged alike. And the pace of change means there is less and less scope to challenge or to turn back this type of change. The danger is that this type of change can quickly become the new certainty.

INCARNATION: MARGINALIZATION AT THE CENTRE OF COMMUNITY

But incarnation does more. It introduces into our understanding of society marginalization at the centre of community. There have always been inequalities but the institutionalization of inequalities around the basics of food and shelter, of housing and human dignity runs counter to a modern and glib agenda of equality and opportunity for all. Many are not able to access these opportunities nor will they ever because inequalities have become endemic in our society. The gap between those who have more and those who have nothing grows deeper and wider and becomes institutionalized. Our public understanding of the needs of The Other grows more shallow and superficial. This is the point at which rhetoric itself drives wedges deep into the heart of reality. What people hear increasingly bears no relation to what they experience in their own life. Belief and faith, as ways of being and of living, whether religious or otherwise, are fundamental to the imagination. Imagination is life–giving to community itself. A change–driven approach to society asks a lot more of a contemporary generation in self–sufficiency and self–motivation, self–help and self–care than we have worked out. But it deprives us of specific types of relationship. More and more of life you and I have to do on our own especially if we do not work within listening distance of a spiritual community.     

THE ISSUES

For those of us who follow in the footsteps of God Incarnate, there is little let up. We live in a society that is thoroughly and comprehensively secular – and the overwhelming majority of us delight and rejoice to do so. Such a society of seemingly unending choice presents us with serious issues that will not go away – particularly at Christmas.

Christmas introduces us to the natural world – we continue to have responsibilities for a natural world we instinctively squander; yet we are increasingly realizing that we are part of this natural world, part of its problem and not above it or owning and controlling it.

Christmas introduces us to human exclusion – we continue to see exclusion at work in our society, despite the pleading and the advocacy of so many good people: homelessness for a whole host of reasons we hoped might long ago be eradicated, Direct Provision along with the scandal of its structured alienation both in terms of location and culture.

Christmas introduces us to sparkling imagination – life for many of us is uphill; we see little of the dividend of the rising tide that is supposed to catch and to lift all boats; we need to make and receive imagination in community life and in individual life: because imagination is essential to integration; and integration is the corrective for exclusion.

Christmas introduces us to peace in the midst of political intrigue – again, little seems to change with the passage of time. Often it is the individual of courage and conviction, often it is the movement of people of principle, often it is the women and the silence that speak peace to power and challenge the deafness of institutions.

We must journey on to find our respectful place – respectful of others even more than expecting to receive respect for ourselves – in the creation, whether it be through the lens of The Blue Planet and David Attenborough or of Laudato Si and People Francis. We are brought back to humility as the way of living and fragility as the way of belonging. This is our journey as 2018 draws to a close and as 2019 begins to invite us onward.

The same person who stood with me in The Shepherds’ Fields in Bethlehem at the beginning of the year passed on to me the following quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer a few days ago. I might help us to re–gear at the end of a year when we have marked the end of World War 1 and its devastating failure to make lasting peace:

“Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honour, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness”.

St Luke 2.13: All at once there was with the angel a great company of the heavenly host, singing praise to God: Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace to all in whom he delights.