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Fr David's Sermon For Christmas Night

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”

You don’t need me to tell you how desperately, how earnestly people are yearning this Christmas to hear the news of peace. How desperately the people of Ukraine, Myanmar, the Maghreb region of North Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, and of course the people of Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank, and many ordinary citizens of Israel all long for news of an end to warfare and fighting.

Bethlehem is closed for Christmas this year. The visitors are absent, borders and checkpoints closed, they cannot come, they dare not come, and there is little for them to come for. The usual parades and lights are cancelled. The leaders of the churches instead asking people to focus on the spiritual meaning of the celebration and to pray for their brothers and sisters in Gaza, where the Christian population has dwindled and those remaining are trapped and in danger, along with their Muslim siblings.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”

Among our festivities, and although not as acutely, we join their cries for peace: shocked at the scenes on our television screens, unable to fathom a solution, we simply yearn for an end to the violence.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” who brings good news, who announces salvation”

Those words from Isaiah are precious to Jew and Christian alike; Isaiah recognised as a prophet by followers of Islam too.

I get told often, that politics and religion don’t mix, that priests shouldn’t stray into politics. I wonder what version of the Gospels people have read, what kind of Christ they believe in, if they think that it’s possible for Christian faith not to be political. This afternoon at our Crib service we celebrated the baby Jesus being born in poverty, Mary, a refugee from Nazareth, with nowhere proper to give birth, bearing the Christ child in the mess and stench of stable. Our allegiance as Christians is to the manifesto of Jesus, not party politics, but how can faith not be political when we see the King of Kings and Lord of all choosing, in the manner of his birth, in the manner of his life, in the manner of his death to show his preference for the poor and needy, the marginalised and the outcast?

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”

Who will announce peace this Christmas to the people of Gaza mourning their loved ones and fearing for their lives, to the families in Israel mourning their own dead and longing for reunion with family members taken hostage? Who will announce peace to those away from Palestine and Israel facing antisemitism and islamophobia as a reaction to dreadful things happening miles away?

Who will announce peace to the ever-increasing numbers in our own country trapped in poverty, homeless or barely keeping a roof over their heads, unsure where the next meal will come from, never mind the presents for under the non-existent tree?

Who will announce peace to those travelling thousands of miles in danger to escape warfare, persecution, famine and destitution caused by climate change and debts to richer nations, only to face rejection, imprisonment and attempted deportation under the hostile environment policies of our and other governments, and racism and prejudice stirred up by a hostile media controlled by the rich?

Not the Monarchs, Presidents and Prime ministers of this world – talking peace while trading in arms, presiding over ever-increasing inequality, stirring up hatred and setting one group of poor against another.

Who will announce peace? Someone so radical, so unexpected, so overlooked and overfamiliar that we might easily miss him, even gathered here in Church. The babe lying in the manger, the Word made Flesh, the light shining in the darkness, offers us in his embrace of poverty, humility and non-violence a perspective that is perhaps even more counter-cultural than it was 2000 years ago, when he was born among an occupied and colonised people.

How did God incarnate announce peace? Neither by capitulating to the desires and behaviour of those in power – either political or religious - nor by violence and insurrection as many of his followers may have desired, but by teaching a radical alternative, the way of love and service and active caring for the poor and needy.

Seeking to follow that example, how do we speak peace to a world so in need of it? Not by joining in the struggle for power, status, importance and wealth, but by welcoming the outcast, the stranger, the refugee; by using the power we do have to work for change.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory”. But have we paid attention?

We gather tonight to celebrate his incarnation in the context of the Eucharist, a holy obligation for all confirmed Christians, as in the Eucharist we are reminded that the incarnation of Christ, the putting flesh on the bones of our faith, didn’t stop 2000 years ago, but happens and needs to happen every day and needs to happen in our current context as much as ever.

In the Eucharist God takes the simple, humble, everyday things of bread and wine that we offer, and gives them back to us as the extraordinary gift of Christ’s presence with us here and now. It is a reminder not just that the incarnation of God among the poor and the needy, the troubled and the endangered matters now as much as then. It is a reminder that what God does for us in the Eucharist he longs to do in us too. The Word became flesh in the Holy Land two millennia ago, but that same Word longs to become flesh again in you and in me as God does in us what he does in the Eucharist: take the ordinary substance of our lives and turn them into the presence of Christ in the world.

We may not be able to change the hearts and minds of those with the power to end wars, but we can speak peace and love to those around us, and for those with no voice of their own. The Word of God becomes flesh in us, every time, that strengthen by him and by his presence in the sacrament, we stand up to hatred, to racism, to islamophobia, to antisemitism; every time we choose forgiveness over grudges and bitterness, every time we speak up for the poor and marginalised, every time we give to a food bank, or offer hospitality to someone in need of food or company; every time we welcome a stranger, an asylum seeker, a refugee, every time we demand that those in need near or far are treated as siblings in the one human family, regardless of their colour, creed, ethnicity or wealth, every time we work for the protection of our shared climate.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”

Among the noise of war and conflict, hatred, persecution and dismissal of the poor, may we, whatever our own needs and conflicts this Christmas, hear the news of the radical peace brought by the Word made flesh, the babe in the poverty of the manger, and may, we moved and strengthened by our encounter with him, learn to put flesh on our words, and through our radical acts of love and kindness, announce peace to a hurting world.


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