Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day 2016 Sermon of the Archbishop of Dublin

Archbishop Michael JackosnArchbishop Michael Jackson, delivered his Christmas Day sermon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning (Sunday December 25)
 
Through the lens of the Eucharist, the Archbishop addressed the commemorations which have taken place in Ireland during this year, Brexit and the bonds of affection between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks. 

He said this Christmas “our celebration is tinged and darkened by the sadness of grief and suffering, of death and loss as we remember the people of Berlin who are very recent sufferers in an international terrorism that seeks to distort the name of major World Faith, that of Islam, and has been relentless throughout the year 2016”.

Quoting  Aram 1, Catholicos of the Armenian Church of Cilicia, former President of the World Council of Churches, he said the Eucharist is the language of life, death and resurrection, of celebration and mission. Archbishop Jackson said that the words of the Catholicos tell us about Christmas. 

“They speak of new life in Christ. The world over, people who are displaced and deracinated, diminished and despiritualized, create a way forward and a way through, where no such possibility seems to exist. Many today are refugees in ever increasing numbers. They hold together experience and expectation. They bring to life a mixture of self–preservation and community for others, however hastily improvised, however impoverished it is compared with their old life, however resented by the host their fearful arrival may be. Life itself gives so many of them life when there seems to be no scope for life old or new. They call us forward,” he said. 

The Archbishop added that the Eucharist in Ireland and the Middle East were the same. 

“This is the voice we long to hear in the streets and the neighbourhoods of Aleppo. It is a city of men, women, and children almost annihilated by the forces of politics and war. There are also those fortunate enough to flee and to leave carrying their own or their children’s saline drip as they stagger on like Beckett people. The Eucharist is a thanksgiving and a celebration, a witness and a rejoicing in salvation freely given by God, time after time, to God’s people everywhere,” he stated. 

He said that Christmas pointed to celebration. That celebration cannot only be for Christians as the Eucharist says the Church must look outwards. “Many people may not ever join us in faith but we are already joined to them in humanity; and on this basis we can and must work together and create harmony. And it is this joining in humanity and in creation that we celebrate at Christmas; and that we Christians celebrate in the Eucharist. Christmas asks of us inside the churches – irrespective of our denominational subtleties and divisions – to move out in the spirit of new birth, in glory and in hope towards others in a shared humanity of grace love and action. This is the gift of Christmas. Let us share it. Let us celebrate it. And let us not forget the peoples of Syria and Iraq, the Children of God of varying Faiths and still of common humanity and shared creation in God with us,” he concluded.

The full text of the sermon is below:

Christmas Day, December 25th 2016, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
St John1.14: So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us …

A sermon preached by the archbishop 

COMMEMORATION 

We have come through a Year of Commemorations in our life and our history in Ireland in 2016. Tens of thousands of people at home and abroad, together with friends of Ireland worldwide, have been enriched by this experience of knowing and engaging with commemoration: history and memory, past and present, reflection and future prospect, in this commemorative way. The history of the state has been told, most pertinently and most poignantly, around the founding events and their complexity. It is acknowledged widely that it has been done with objectivity and with respect. Children and women have not been forgotten in this account of happenings. At every point, we have sought to include and not to exclude, to open up and to enlarge respectful conversations, to enable divided histories to speak to one another with a new rhythm. Genuine attempts have been made and sustained to give space to the type of fresh interpretation that the modern mind has an entitlement and indeed an urgency to expect regarding past events. Genuine attempts have been made to point us to a fresh expression of ourselves into the future that will open as a new century for Irish self–understanding, as well as a new year, in 2017. 

BONDS OF AFFECTION 

The shared interest and combined presence, at official level and at unofficial level, at major events in the Year of Commemoration, and on the part of citizens of the two jurisdictions and the separate political entities of The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, was indeed well in place before The Brexit Vote in the United Kingdom. In this way, it speaks hopefully for continuing cordial relations between the two parts of Ireland whose separateness cannot but be accentuated structurally once the United Kingdom invokes Article 50 and leaves The European Union. It is good to have bonds of affection in place within Ireland ahead of this event, whatever form it takes, because it means that post–2016 we have a shared memory of publicly documented expressions of respect and friendship already in place. And memory in Ireland is a key component in our identity. 

We may indeed find ourselves drawing on this well of affection and graciousness as we move forward to 2022 and beyond, and as Northern Ireland too delves deeper into commemoration of its own structural founding. This is a journey that history demands of us and to which events call us – together. World War 1 and its Commemoration – and we are but half–way through this time in 2016 – have shown us, person by person, family by family, that the honouring of loss exposes the bankruptcy of a memory that seeks to exclude. And such a version of memory has had a long, tenacious history in Ireland. 

The freedom to remember and the grace to grieve have touched households and townlands, streets and suburbs, the length and breadth of Ireland – as North and South we have taken back The Somme into our self–understanding and identity. As with so many of the parables of the Season of Advent from which we have just emerged, versatility and nimbleness, pragmatism and decisiveness will be asked of us in this new unfolding period of history. 

Advent has given us a new shaft of light on the Kingdom of God and what it is like

Sometimes this has been unexpected; frequently it has been disconcerting; always it has been surprizing. As we come into the time of the Light of the World, let us carry this light too. Advent prepares for more than Christmas; it prepares for a life of expectation.

EUCHARIST

It may seem strange, therefore, for me to go on to quote Aram 1, Catholicos of the Armenian Church of Cilicia, former President of The WCC, when he said: ‘The eucharist is a sign of, as well as a call for, unity and mission. It is the kingdom in anticipation, and as such it embraces the whole of creation. Local and universal, time and space are united in it. 

The eucharist as the supreme manifestation of unity and mission has always been at the heart of Christian life in the Middle East. The eucharist has built up the community of faith and sustained it in its life and witness. In the past, during the times of persecution, and today, in a minority situation, the eucharist remains for our churches the living source as well as the emerging and converging point of unity and mission.’ (Orthodox Perspectives on Mission 1992, page 100) 

The Armenians are the most ancient national church in the world. We hear a voice of modernity and prophecy on the lips of those who are numbered among the most traditional of Christians. We hear a voice of nurture and growth on the lips of the persecuted and the minority, those whose Genocide is often partially commemorated and regularly denied. We hear a voice of hope and of dialogue where we might have thought of self–protection after such Genocide. We would do well to remember what this eucharist and these experiences tell us about Christmas.

THE VOICES OF CHRISTMAS

They tell us more than we might initially imagine. They speak of new life in Christ. The world over, people who are displaced and deracinated, diminished and despiritualized, create a way forward and a way through, where no such possibility seems to exist. Many today are refugees in ever increasing numbers. They hold together experience and expectation. They bring to life a mixture of self–preservation and community for others, however hastily improvised, however impoverished it is compared with their old life, however resented by the host their fearful arrival may be. Life itself gives so many of them life when there seems to be no scope for life old or new. They call us forward. 

THE VOICE OF NEW BIRTH 

The voice of new birth, harrowing, painful, hurting, but still the voice of new birth, cries out in their spirit of starting to make a new world and to make an old world new wherever these migrants and refugees arrive, eventually and exhaustedly. The eucharist, here in Ireland and in the Middle East, is the same eucharist. This is the voice we long to hear in the streets and the neighbourhoods of Aleppo. It is a city of men, women, and children almost annihilated by the forces of politics and war. There are also those fortunate enough to flee and to leave tragically carrying maybe their own or their children’s saline drip as they stagger on like Beckett people. The eucharist is a thanksgiving and a celebration, a witness and a rejoicing in salvation freely given by God, time after time, to God’s people everywhere. 

The voice of new birth for the Child of God, for the world and for the whole creation cried out in Bethlehem, as a baby is born in humble and in hastily improvised circumstances, to anxious, and then relieved, parents; and cries out on this Christmas Day the world over time after time as the earth and the sun move in harmony. Thanksgiving and celebration are our song today as we greet the child of Mary. 

THE VOICE OF GLORY

The voice of glory sounds in the response of angels and shepherds. The creation consists of the world we know and of the worlds of which we know nothing. The glory of the creation connects us with what we understand and with what we will never understand. This combination of knowing and of not knowing is good for us because it prevents us from thinking that we control events around us. We are in God’s hands. God’s creation is our stable, our home. Over–knowing is our constant temptation and, so often, because of our genuine human limitations our over–concern. The Birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise … we hear Christmas after Christmas. 

In the midst of political turmoil, in the face of warring nationalisms, in the storm of religious upheaval, now as then, there is an innocence that creeps over the excitement of new birth and new life. Mary and Joseph – and St Luke and St Matthew tell us as much as they think we need to know – have a moment of getting to know their firstborn as parents. Then shepherds and angels come to visit and to worship. By their presence and by their message of joy to the world, they give voice to the glory of God and the glory of creation. They open our horizon and take us beyond the incomprehension of cynicism or sentimentality to the reality of God with us, and God one of us. This thanksgiving brings together heaven and earth, creation as we know it and creation as it lies beyond our grasp and our greed. It is the voice of glory.   

THE VOICE OF HOPE

The voice of hope sounds in prophecy fulfilled and age renewed. This comes through loud and clear as the Christmas Child is brought to The Temple in Jerusalem for presentation and for dedication. The expectation of prophets and of those who faithfully uphold such expectation of The Messiah in patient continuing, in bridging old and new orders, in liturgy and in prayer come together in their re–energized response to his arrival among them. And again song is the way in which they do it, as Mary did it when The Spirit visited her. Anna and Simeon remained faithful and buoyant in what the hymn–writer later was to call the trivial round, the common task. Their spiritual antennae gave them a sharpness of recognition when The Child appeared in their midst. The voice of hope draws in Gentiles as well as Jews; the voice of hope gives the capacity to see what many still today long for but dare not name: salvation: for fear of sounding pious or hypocritical in an articulately and aggressively secular world inside and outside the Christian church itself. Fulfilment is the child of expectation; age is the fruitfulness of new birth. The voice of hope leads us into experience and into the future.

VOICES OF TODAY AND TOMORROW 

The voices of Christmas are here with us every day. And Christmas points us to something more adventurous than commemoration because it points us to celebration. We celebrate surprise and salvation. We celebrate family and fulfilment. We celebrate time and eternity. The wider Christian context of public belonging is contested more and more every year in Ireland. Many have good reason, often deep within their personal experience, to be wary and negative about church and churches. Many find themselves beyond trying to grapple with the truth claims of Christianity itself because they see failure of response and insufficient humility once too often in their dealings with the people of the contemporary church. Others simply cannot bring themselves to believe in the God of Christian revelation. It is not for us to criticise people like this. It is, however, for us to let them see that God is at work in those whom God has called to discipleship. 

Our celebration cannot be only for ourselves. It was never intended that the churches should look inwards. The eucharist tells us this. The eucharist is the language of life, death and resurrection, of celebration and mission, as the Armenian Catholicos so eloquently expressed it. He speaks from a country that has one and a half million refugees whose origin in in Palestine in 1948; he speaks from a country that has a further one and a half million refugees from Syria and Iraq. He speaks from suffering to glory through hope in God and in humanity. 

And this Christmas too our celebration is tinged and darkened by the sadness of grief and suffering, of death and loss as we remember the people of Berlin who are very recent sufferers in an international terrorism that seeks to distort the name of major World Faith, that of Islam, and has been relentless throughout the year 2016. Our celebration is for others and our celebration is of the new birth that others experience through their own lives and through the works of compassion and the challenging of unjust structures. 

Many people may not ever join us in faith but we are already joined to them in humanity; and on this basis we can and must work together and create harmony. And it is this joining in humanity and in creation that we celebrate at Christmas; and that we Christians celebrate in the eucharist. Christmas asks of us inside the churches – irrespective of our denominational subtleties and divisions – to move out in the spirit of new birth, in glory and in hope towards others in a shared humanity of grace love and action. This is the gift of Christmas. Let us share it. Let us celebrate it. And let us not forget the peoples of Syria and Iraq, the Children of God of varying Faiths and still of common humanity and shared creation in God with us.

 St John 1.14: … and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

No comments: