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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


25th December 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Christmas

During the Autumn I read a fascinating book by Francis Spufford called 'The Child that books built.' As its title suggests it is all about the impact that books have on children's development I particularly enjoyed it because the author is only a little younger than myself, so there were many echoes of my own childhood.

One of the books discussed is the 'The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe' by C.S.Lewis. I still have my copy. That it is priced 3/6 shows how long it is since I first read it!

In the story the Witch has cast a spell over the Land of Narnia so that it is always winter but never Christmas. Gradually the spell is broken and Father Christmas appears as the first sign of this.

The story is a Christian allegory and the film Shadowlands suggests that for CS Lewis life was always winter until his acceptance of Christianity and also until he met Joy whom he married late in life. He was in a double sense Surprised by Joy.

Everlasting winter without Christmas would be bleak indeed. It is no accident that Christmas is kept in mid winter. The Church Christianised the Roman pagan mid winter festival that was already a time of feasting. Christ is placed at the very heart of the feast, not as something added, but at the very core.

To help us think about the meaning of Christmas, I'd like to share three things that come from a prayer I found.

1. The shedding of the new light of the incarnate Word

At the start of his Gospel St John tells of the coming of Christ the Word made flesh dwelling amongst us. He portrays him as a light shining in the darkness. When all seems dark in our world his light dispels all the gloom. In his light we see ourselves in a new way. All that is dark in our lives is shown up. We see the world differently. There is now a meaning, a purpose.

2. The gift of gladness in sorrow

Gladness is a lovely old English word. Its hard to define but easy to feel. O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son, Jesus Christ...

So we pray on Christmas Eve. Christmas makes us glad. St. John was one who contemplated. He is often portrayed at the foot of the cross, lost in profound prayer. The tradition tells us that he live into his nineties. He saw and experienced much sorrow in his long life and yet we can tell from his Gospel, his epistles and from Revelation that he never lost his gladness in Christ even in sorrow.

3. A presence in our isolation

Isolation is very much a contemporary phenomenon. We can communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways, the Net, the mobile. And yet that can make us more isolated. Activities which cement families and communities together, be they sports clubs, churches, social clubs, are said to be in decline. For many there is deep isolation that comes through bereavement, infirmity, and bad experiences in life from an unhappy childhood to the experience of war.

Munch's famous painting The Scream can stand for all these experiences of isolation. All of us will feel isolated at times to a greater or lesser extent. In the midst of this Christ is a presence in our isolation. Paul in prison knew it. Read his Epistle to the Philippians, his epistle of joy. Terry Waite held hostage in the Lebanon was sustained by it. Mary and Joseph knew that presence as they gazed at baby Jesus in the manger. We can know it too. All we have to do is to ask and accept the gift.

Thanks are to God that in the midst of winter there is always Christmas.

Almighty God, you have shed upon us the new light of your incarnate Word, giving us gladness in our sorrow and a presence in our isolation; fill our lives with your light until they overflow with gladness and praise; through Christ our Lord.

Amen

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Last updated 21/12/2002 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd