Sermon preached at Eucharist on the First Sunday of Christmas (31st December 2017) by the Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

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12:00pm Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Eucharist on the First Sunday of Christmas (31st December 2017) by the Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

The Chaplain encourages us to share the news of great joy, news that brings peace and to share this peace. 

I wonder if, after all the build up to it, it feels to you as though this Christmas had an impact on you (apart from the inches on the waist or the depletion of our bank accounts)? For many, if not most, it will certainly feel as though its all over; especially for those who were working or went back to work in the last few days. Christmas is supposed to make an impact, and it is certainly not all over, as we are only half way through the season and on this first Sunday of Christmas we remember the visit of the Shepherds to the Christ child. And that first Christmas certainly had an impact on them.

In the Christmas story it is a bunch of shepherds (no one in particular, just those who happened to be about) that are the first to hear the news of the incarnation brought to them by angels, who, terrified them by their appearance, then amazed them with astonishing news which so excited them that they set off to see for themselves the truth of the matter about which the angels had spoken. They are the first to know.

It feels pretty good to be the first to know something doesn’t it. That moment when we think, I know something that you don’t. A delicious moment of relishing being in the know. But the only thing to do then is to share the news or no one will know that we have been privileged to hear it first. The first to tweet the news about the new Bishop of London recently, or the winner of Strictly, those OMG posts, “you’ll never believe what I’ve just heard…”

And then we decide who we are going to tell. Our friends and family, someone we want to get one over on, or the first person we see. It depends what sort of news it is I guess. The news the shepherds heard, and then verified by their visit, is so utterly astonishing that those who were the first to hear it simply could not contain themselves. You can imagine the shepherds, bleary eyed in the middle of the night, dazed and amazed trying to make sense of what they have seen, as though waking from a dream saying, “you’ll never guess what…”

Luke writes that they returned from their visit to the Holy Family glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. There were quite a few shepherds in parishes I worked in before coming to St Paul’s and I can tell you that they are not the sort of folk to go about making a song and dance about anything. They are gentle folk, circumspect. But these shepherds were so moved by what they had heard and seen that they were emboldened by it.

And what had they heard and seen, what is it that you have heard this year in the Christmas Gospels.

That within our frail humanity was contained the fullness of divine power and authority and so through the incarnation we are drawn into union with God in an embrace that gives us the courage to be ourselves, because God could not love us more than to do this for us.

Or perhaps you hear that if God loves us that much, then we ought to love one another just a little bit more.

Or perhaps you hear that there is no need to be afraid of that which we do not understand, or cannot comprehend, that which overwhelms us and challenges vision of ourselves and the world around us as undoubtedly the shepherds version of reality was ripped apart that night and as had Mary and Joseph had likewise been challenged by the news delivered to them by angels.

What message do you hear and who needs to hear this message from you? Who can you share it with because this is a message that must be shared as it heals and transforms and reconciles, delights and restores and gives new life and brings new hope to friends and family, and to those from whom we are estranged and separated.

It is a message that must be shared because without the knowledge of this love poured into this world for us, we are reduced to competing for love, reduced to struggling to convince ourselves that we matter by surrounding ourselves with tokens of success (job, stuff, relationships that give us a sense of achievement) or worse still finding ourselves without these things, and left feeling worthless.

Have you heard?

For you this child is born, for you this gift is given.

Perhaps we struggle to share the message because we believe it more easily for others than for ourselves. And we are not going to convince anyone if we aren’t ourselves convinced. But once we are convinced, as the shepherds were, then there is no containing the joy that this message brings.

That our infinite value is assured by this birth, by the divine becoming human, by that self giving that is love. Unconditional, intentional gift.

We will shortly share the Peace with one another. It is the most precious opportunity to share with one another this beautiful news, that you and I are loved - so much, abundantly, perfectly, unconditionally. We offer one another a sign of Peace, and in doing so are wishing one another, willing one another to hear deep in our innermost being that we can and we should have peace in our hearts because we are held in the love of God in Jesus Christ, which heals, restores, renews and transforms. Forgive me if I sound patronising but please do the best job you can of giving and receiving the Peace this morning.

And we are sent out at the end of this Eucharist to share this news that brings peace. Who will you be going on to see today and tomorrow as we welcome in the New Year, who will you telephone, text, WhatsApp, with whom will you share the peace that this good news brings.

Do not be afraid for see I am bringing you good news of great joy to all people.