Sermon preached at Eucharist, Christmas Day ( 25 December 2016) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

Worship
Today at the Cathedral View More
Temporary closure of Stone and Golden Galleries
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

Sermon preached at Eucharist, Christmas Day ( 25 December 2016) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

Rejoice at Christmas as a subversive act against the world's darkness, says the Dean.


Merry Christmas! Whether you’re alone or with family or friends, happy or sad, have lots of gifts to share or none at all – here, now, is the time and place for us to rejoice. 
 
Why? Not because a baby is born, however special – but because of what Christmas means. In the Church’s Christian year we have a logical, time-line approach: we follow the life of Jesus through by starting with his birth and then going on to his ministry, his passion and death, and beyond. We look at the Christmas story and see a baby born, and rejoice as you would when new life begins, and wait until later in the year to turn to the darkness of Good Friday and the light of Easter.
 
But the early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Their big celebration was Easter, and Christmas wasn’t that special until Christians began marking the whole life of Jesus. Christmas has its meaning because of Easter, because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the cross and empty tomb, Christmas would be just a cute mid-winter festival with cold and darkness on either side. But what’s happening in this cathedral this morning is far greater than Yule-tide, much more than merrily cheering ourselves up, a lot more than Merry Christmas….
 
I was at a party with some church people last week and one was asking, how can we celebrate while others suffer?
 
How could we rejoice when there are huge inequalities between people, penniless and starving refugees all round the world including on our doorstep, disabled people who’ve had their benefits removed and have nothing to live on, health and prison systems under stress, millions of people in danger of starvation in Nigeria and Eastern Africa, victims of terrorism that strikes without warning, war, violence, famine and plague, the uncertain political future that lies ahead of all of us, the rise of extremism, racism and division, bombing and persecution of Christians in Egypt and Pakistan and elsewhere, the degradation of the environment, the abuse of children, slavery, discrimination – how much more can we take? 
 
Christmas isn’t a time to forget about all this, to turn away from the darkness for a bit of light relief. It’s a time for us to be light in darkness, to share joy with those who go without. One of the things I learnt years ago when I was a priest in inner-city London was that those who are poor know well how to celebrate, not because life is easy, but precisely because it isn’t; and that finding God’s life in the midst of darkness is the greatest joy of all, the joy to which Christmas bears witness...
 
A kilometre below the surface of the western Atlantic Ocean lies the deep and enormously powerful current of the Gulf Stream, that brings warm water from the Caribbean to the shores of Europe. We can’t see it, but we experience its effects: without it we’d be a colder country. 
 
And greater than the Gulf Stream is the deep current of joy that runs through the world and through all ages, the deep current that flows through space and time, weaved into life, sometimes hidden under the cold waters of evil and sorrow. Unlike the Gulf Stream, that deep current of joy surfaces at many times and in many places. It wells up through the crib at Bethlehem, swirls through the ministry of Jesus, eddies around the cross and erupts at the resurrection; it’s the joy of God, which touches all our lives, and which we can touch when in prayer we stop speaking to God, and make space to listen and be still…;
 
It’s the deep current of joy which wells up in our worship and overflows from the altar table at the Eucharist, the deep current which flows through this and other churches, the joy of the love of God which sweeps us out through the doors of the cathedral to share good news with all the world, the news that it’s love and joy which underpin the world and which will have the last word, when the deep current of God’s joy will like a flood sweep away all the debris of the ages and wash all things new... 
 
The Letter to the Hebrews, part of which we had read just now, begins with God speaking to us through his Son, who rescues us from evil and is seated with God in heaven. 12 chapters later the writer returns to this theme, and tells us to persevere in faith, looking to Jesus who, because of the joy that was set before him (x2), endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat with God in heaven.
 
Jesus, born in poverty, the baby laid in a manger, who lived with us and was crucified for us and is risen in glory, did it for joy. And today we rejoice at God’s defeat of the power of evil. At this Eucharist, we come together at the table of Jesus Christ to share the deep joy of our Lord, that doesn’t turn away from evil, but overcomes it with joy. 
 
Hence those wonderful words from John’s Gospel: in him is life, the light of all people, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
 
Desmond Tutu the great South African bishop has said: [The Book of Joy] ‘... joy doesn’t save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too.… we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters.’
 
So let’s rejoice this Christmas as a subversive act against the darkness of the world. We will not deny the hope of joy to those still in darkness. We will celebrate mindful of the needs of others, committing ourselves to help them, celebrating for those who themselves can’t yet rejoice. 
 
We will dive into God’s deep-rooted current of joy that runs through life, sometimes underground, but always irrepressible. We will suffer ourselves and alongside others, and yet be joyful. The world may be dark, evil and suffering may cast a shadow, but they are never the last word. For the light of God in Christ is never quenched, never overcome, for Jesus is the first word and the last.
 
So, sisters and brothers, may you have, not a merry Christmas, not even a happy Christmas, but a joy-full Christmas this year: and whatever next year brings, whatever darkness and debris we encounter, may the deep current of the joy of God sweep us on and bring us home.