Christmas Day 2015 – Gloucester Cathedral
Scripture readings: Isaiah chapter 52 verses 7-10 and John chapter 1 verses 1-14
I’ve been Bishop now for just over three months and as I look back and reflect on the past weeks I’m aware of how many different voices I’ve heard: Conversations, phone calls, hundreds of letters and emails, radio interviews, twitter ..And of course in all of that I have been using my voice and my words.
Thousands and thousands of words. And so many different voices. We live in a world in which we are surrounded by words: written and signed, spoken and sung.
As you look back on the year that’s been, I wonder which voices have been strongest for you? What are the words you remember which have given you joy? what are the words which have caused you pain?
During the year there have been endless voices and words from people in power. There have been cries and screams from across our world of those in places of destruction and struggle. There have been the whispers of the terrified and the shouts of the angry…
And of course there have been the words which have made us laugh; The words which have entertained us; and the voices of family and friends.
Yet in a world of so many voices and so many words, people are lonely.
I don’t know if you heard that shocking piece of news a few weeks ago when an elderly couple dialled 999 to speak to an operator and to voice that they were struggling and lonely. What does that say about our society in which we think we have such sophisticated communication and yet we are failing to relate to one another?
So much conflict in our world stems from the fact that for so many reasons we are failing to communicate and to live in relationship – whether that’s in our own lives or in what we see unfolding across our world.
We live in a culture where so many people cannot be separated from their mobile phones, from Facebook, Twitter feed, emails or text. And yet a world in which people long for relationship and love. People long to be known, connected and accepted.
We live in a world in which people’s pain is so often about broken relationship and a yearning for love and connection.
So here we are now, lots of people alongside one another in one place, participating in an event of further voices and many words: sung carols, spoken prayers, and readings. But this can be about deep connection – Relationship between us and God.
The events surrounding the first Christmas were full of words and voices. Many years before Christ was born, God spoke through the prophets as we were reminded in our reading from the prophet Isaiah
We had the picture of a messenger speaking words of peace, good news, and announcing salvation. Here is our God of relationship, of rescue and transformation.
And hundreds of years after the prophets came the words of the Angel Gabriel making that terrifying announcement to Mary. And there was the voice of Mary daring to say ‘yes’. Then on that first Christmas night there were the shepherds. No doubt they exchanged words as they watched over their sheep on that Palestinian hillside. Then came that terrifying interruption – the voices of the angels singing out words of greeting and proclaiming strange truths. And we are told how those shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem.
So now like those shephers we too are standing at the stable door, peering in. I wonder what it is that you long to voice as you dare to look into the manger? As you reflect on the voices that have been around you and within you over this past year, what is it that you want to voice to God?
Because here is God. Indeed, the voice of God – The Word of God.
This isn’t about God sending us words from afar. Our God isn’t a God distant from us – out of communication. Our God is closer than close. A God of relationship and deep connection…from the very start: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.
Dare to look into that animal feeding trough in that Middle Eastern animal shed. Here is God with us. Communication and connection beyond our dreaming.
And as you listen to that cry of the voice of a new-born baby, allow yourself to also hear the cry of a man in agony as he is crucified on a cross: Jesus Christ that same baby grown to be a man. But dare too to listen to that voice, three days later. This time words spoken in the garden where the tomb of Jesus Christ’s burial now stands empty.
This is the voice of death defeated: Life stronger than death; Light stronger than darkness. This is God’s voice of love in our world. This is God – the Word made flesh. The Word who lived among us. Here is our God of transformation speaking hope and love in flesh and blood. Relationship. Not mere words.
The invitation this Christmas is for each of us to pause at the crib once more: What is it you want to voice to God? And how are you going to listen to the voice of God and let God draw close to you?
God has already spoken in the Word made flesh: The baby in the crib; the man on the cross; the man risen from the dead.
And as we take leave of the crib we are called to be those who build relationship with others: Those like us and those not like us. And we do that because that is who God has created us to be: People of connection, of relationship, because that is who God is. God with us. Love and intimate relationship.
In this service of Holy Communion, in words and touch and taste, in voice and silence, we give thanks to God; we seek God’s forgiveness; and we recall the events of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection and receive Christ’s transforming love and
hope in bread and wine. And then we are sent out into Christmas Day and beyond to communicate Christ’s hope and love in word and relationship amidst the people and places of our lives. Amidst joy and pain to hold fast to the truth that the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory …
And that is what we are called to communicate to others with our voices and our lives as we seek to deepen relationship with others amidst the voices and noise of our world.
Lift up your voice and share the Good News of the Word made flesh.
The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester