Sermon preached at Evensong the 4th Sunday of Advent (18 December 2016) by Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

Today at the Cathedral View More
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 Evensong the 4th Sunday of Advent (18 December 2016) by Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

Trees inside – whoever heard of such a thing?

Holy God, open our hearts & transform our lives. Amen.

When you think about it, how odd, how very strange.

You’d never guess from the state of my desk sometimes, but I do find a satisfaction in things being, well in their right place. I’m sure many of you know what I mean.

So, how strange then, how extraordinary, to have these things of the outside, these glorious evergreen trees, here, inside.

Trees inside – whoever heard of such a thing?

Well many of us of course – and mostly this extraordinary occurrence happens because it’s almost Christmas. Tiny miniature trees, almost bald trees, real and replica, vivacious and full trees, tall and stately ones.

There is much about Christmas which warms us with its familiar comforting traditions linking past, present and future. But there is also something wild and subversive, which runs alongside and underneath and we occasionally find glimpses of it. Wild and disruptive. Like trees coming inside, knocking into  lampshades, leaving a trail of dirt and spilling needles or tinsel onto polished marble or deep carpet.  Yesterday evening 2 young men in kilts delivered our Christmas Tree – that certainly caused disruption in our house!

But writer Jane Williams has said that part of the charm of the Christmas Tree is that simply by being a tree, yet indoors, it speaks of the fact that the ordinary rules do not apply at Christmas. The outside world is brought in – or perhaps it’s the inside world which is transformed by the outside. Either way we are celebrating a time when barriers are dissolved.

Nowhere do we see those barriers dissolve more, than when we look deep into that which is the heart of the season, depicted by the Crib scene to be blessed shortly.

There we see the wild, mysterious, ‘outside-ness’ of God who cannot be contained coming close, inside, coming to a young woman called Mary, to our ordinary human lives. Human flesh and bone. God with us, dwelling within and beside us.  The outside, in.

Most of the year we may be inclined to arrange things, tidily; so that we are as protected as we can be. To keep the outside world, even some outside people, at their distance, lest they overwhelm us.                                                                     

And in those times we feel most uncertain, it’s very human to want to reinforce  the barriers – to be clear about who is ‘in‘ and who ‘out’.

But at Christmas we dare to dream different dreams, to give space to our imaginations. For Christmas is a glorious time of reversals. Great Christmas celebrations of medieval Europe, some of which persist, point to this…as boys are made bishops for a day, fools considered wise and gifts left out for strangers who come down the chimney.

And still today many of us bring a tree indoors – a piece of wild nature given a place of honour, and for a while we imagine a time when things can and will and must be different…when those presently outside will be welcomed in and there is room for everyone – even us.

As Christmas draws  closer, our eyes turn again to the child laid in a manger,  ‘God contracted to a span’, whose coming disrupts the barriers we build to protect our illusionary sense of control.  This God of reversals. Whose homelessness makes for us a home; whose poverty makes us rich; whose vulnerability gives us strength.

Which leaves me wondering how my celebrating of his coming might reflect  the reversals of Christmas; the reign of hope and justice which this child came to bring. How might my imagination be set alight and sanctified, that my, our, living might make real our longings for a world renewed?

Adrienne Rich has said that ‘war is an absolute failure of imagination, scientific and political’. A world which encompasses the sorrowing in Cairo, Aleppo, Southern Sudan, Yemen and Libya needs those who dream and don’t despair, who hope and don’t give in to hate, who can act and create and not capitulate, who will speak and stand and not be silent.

The trees here at St Paul’s are a wonderful gift from the Royal estates. In a few moments their lights will be turned on by two honoured guests;  people who know what it is a first hand to be a refugee –  who have had the courage even in the most challenging  of circumstances to believe in and to strive for a new future.

Today, if we are able, one way we can express our hopes for a world renewed is by supporting the work of the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, with whom St Paul’s is delighted to be in partnership.

You can read more about their work in our service booklet and we are so glad to have guests from the Centre with us.

The collection taken at this service will go to them in its entirety.

As we marvel at the reversals of Christmas, perhaps we who may have become cynical because of the darkness can allow ourselves to regain our capacity for wonder and the hope that things can and will be different.

So let us pray – using words inspired by those of a Benedictine sister:

May God bless us with a restless discomfort about easy answers and superficial relationships, so that we may seek truth boldly and love deeply.

May God bless us with holy anger at injustice so that we may work for freedom and peace.

May God bless us with the gift of compassion for those who suffer, who know the loss of all that they cherish, that in our reaching out to one another we might all be renewed.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we really can make a difference in this world, so that by his grace we are able to do what others claim cannot be done.

In the name of the child of Bethlehem, Jesus our Lord. Amen.