Christmas Sermon - Christmas Day 2020

from the Revd Canon Judith Allford

Sometimes I come into St Jude’s early in the morning when it is still dark.   One of the first things I learned about how to be your Vicar was how to switch on the lights.  In this church it’s quite complicated!


But this morning I have a question – how many candles would it take to bring light into a dark place? 


We are living in dark times and so were the people of first century Palestine. There were lonely people in those times, there were grieving people, sick people, frightened people, people who had no belief in God, people who felt let down by their religious leaders, people who didn’t trust the government, there was poverty and there was greed...the world 2000 years ago looked a lot like the world of 2020.


But into the darkness came Christmas.   John’s Gospel says: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. 


Our Gospel reading began:  In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Today we are constantly struggling under the weight of ever changing decrees, shifting tiers and bewildering restrictions.  


That decree from Emperor Augustus could well have cancelled Christmas.  It almost certainly disrupted Mary and Joseph’s plans for a safe and quiet birth for their baby.  But it didn’t disrupt the plan of God.  Things turned out exactly as God had designed.  Jesus was born in the town of His greatest ancestor, King David, just as God had promised of old: “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah...out of you will come one who will be ruler...” 


COVID 19 has disrupted a lot of people’s plans for Christmas.  Families cannot be together.  Celebrations have had to be postponed. Last minute shopping got cancelled.


But COVID 19 cannot cancel Christmas.  COVID 19 is responsible for so much of today’s darkness but it cannot overcome the light of God’s love in Jesus.


When the lights are blazing here in church a single candle can hardly be noticed.  It is when the church is dark that a candle comes into its own.  When the traditional Christmas celebrations are available to us, when the party lights are blazing, when the gladness of being together and the giving and receiving of gifts take centre stage, it is perhaps easy to forget the darkness and to miss the everlasting light.


But that light is shining still.  The shepherds were men of the night.  They were used to velvet darkness around a tiny fire. No wonder the great light that burst into the darkness so terrified them.  And some of us too have become used to the darkness: the darkness that is inside us, just as much as out there.  We cradle the darkness of our own unbelief and doubt; the darkness of terrible sorrow; the darkness of unspoken fear; the darkness of our sin. 


God sent Jesus to dispel that darkness.  Christmas invites us to step into the light of truth; the light of peace; the light of hope; the light of forgiveness; the light of love. If we’ve never made that step, it’s time to make it now.  If we’ve made it once but the darkness of these present times is very hard to bear, then it’s time to step into the light again.


My favourite carol is “It came upon the midnight clear”. It speaks to us down here in the darkness:


All ye beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow


It directs me to the promise of God, unchanged even in Christmas 2020:


The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.


It only takes one candle to dispel darkness. It only takes you or me to hold out the light of Christ to someone in darkness today. COVID 19 cannot cancel Christmas - it could be the very means of making the light of Christ known


Look now for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing