Christmas Day Sermon Preached by The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally Bishop of London at St Paul’s Cathedral, 25th December 2022
Hebrews 1. 1-4 and John 1. 1-14
Unless you have been streaming your own play lists since the beginning of December and wearing headsets into shops and pubs you will not have avoided the clamour of Christmas music – and in our churches and cathedrals advent carols have segued into Christmas ones.
I wonder what your favourite piece of Christmas music is? Or if you are a Cathedral Dean, Director of Music or chorister it may be easier to name the one which brings horror to your heart!
However, the true song of Christmas is poured out in our gospel reading this morning. Christ is God’s song of love, singing life into the world’s babble, chaos, and voices of death. John’s description of Jesus in the Prologue is poetic, even lyrical speech. It seeks to capture what is too big to put into words – and does rather a good job of it.
Maybe one of my favourite carols is ‘Of the Father’s love begotten’. An ancient poem translated and paired with a medieval plain chant melody, “Divinum mysterium”.
the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see
evermore and evermore.
The words echo God’s love song, which is Christ. The Christ who is poetically evoked in John’s words. Words of a Christmas carol — more evocative than explanatory – point us to the Word made flesh and the Word who is eternal.
John sings that Jesus is the Word of God become flesh, who from all eternity was with God, and actually is God.
While we think of “word” as something written or printed, John’s description of Jesus as logos means first of all something said.
In Luke’s Christmas story, angels sing the good news of great joy. In Matthew the angels speak words of reassurance to Joseph and tell of a saviour who will be called Immanuel, God with us. In John, Christ has been singing love and bringing life from the beginning.
Genesis tells us that God said, “Let there be . . .” and there was. God spoke day and night, heaven and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and humanity into being. Jesus is that utterance. Christ is God’s eternal speech, which existed before anything else and called everything into being.
God’s song continues through history. The psalmist encourages the believer to give voice to God’s song at points of need and grace. When all is dark, the psalmist finds that the Lord’s song is with him as a soothing night-time lullaby and God himself becomes the believers’ song to those in exile.
This speech became flesh and pitched a tent among us. In the Incarnation, God’s eternal expression was articulated within our world and within human history in a particular person. Jesus, then, is “God’s love song which breaths us into life. Jesus became the enfleshment of what God says — even sings — to us.
And what does John sing to us? What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
We must not blame ourselves for finding it hard, sometimes, to hear this song when we can’t see anything but the darkness. And yet in God, his song of love in Jesus continues so that even our darkness is not without hope. The creation began in darkness. Darkness carries within it the seeds of germination, growth, new life and the hope of healing.
Our own nation, yet again, is facing some difficult and disturbing times. There are still those among us who are particularly vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus, and we are all aware of the recent upsurge in cases. Alongside this, many are finding it impossible to meet the basic costs of everyday living and are making choices between food and warmth. Necessities have become luxuries and the extras which Christmas often brings are just not affordable. We are faced with the clamour of our own anxieties and struggles.
As we face these challenges, we look to the self-emptying God, who put aside power and glory to be born among us in fragility, vulnerability and as a refugee. God is no stranger to our most profound human struggles, nor to our joys.
Knowing that God does not keep a distance but chooses to dwell among us and alongside us in the precariousness of our lives, does make a difference. At Christmas we sing about hope, we preach about hope, we rejoice in hope. And the source of that hope is the extraordinary truth: that the Word – the same Word who was active in creation, who was with God, who was God, who is God – became flesh and dwelt among us.
Though other voices strive to drown it out, God’s Love Song is not silent. At our Midnight Eucharist last night, we sang that beautiful and hope-filled carol ‘It came upon the midnight clear’. It reminds us that the song of the angels – the song of God’s love – hasn’t stopped:
“Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;”
And then the challenge to us, that:
“All the earth, at war, hears not
The love-song which they bring:
O hush the noise of mortal strife,
And hear the angels sing!”
In response to God’s Love Song, we echo Luke’s angels and sing,
“Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!”
or in the words of John’s Hymn of Praise:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”
The mystery of God is never diminished, all that we could possibly know in this world about God is disclosed as fully as possible in Jesus Christ.
Jesus, God’s Speech made flesh, sings God’s love song into our hearts so that we know who God is. Knowing who God is, we know who we are as well. And we sing.