Sermons given at the 10.30 am Sunday service are regularly available as audio downloads and some in written form below.


‘Consider Your Position’

A Christmas Eve Sermon

~

We have a phrase in English—a serious phrase—which we hear and perhaps have even used from time to time: ‘Consider your position’. I say it’s a serious phrase because we use it when we ask a person to weight-up his or her behaviour and worthiness, to measure with serious scrutiny whether, all things considered, a person can maintain his particular position or responsibilities within an organization.

‘Consider your position.’

A moment ago we heard the so-called ‘Christmas Gospel’ penned by St John the Evangelist. Throughout our churches it’s commonly read at midnight services. Like a cinematic ‘pre-quel’,[1] it tells us about Jesus before the start of the earthly sequence of his conception, gestation and birth, which the evangelists St Matthew and St Luke describe.[2]

As distinct from St Luke’s much-loved, almost homely, description of Christ’s birth, which draws in our imaginations so effectively, St John underlines—what shall we call it?-- the cosmic origin of Christ and the challenge posed by Christ’s coming. We could say that for St John Christ’s coming challenges us to consider our position.

At the service of Christmas Lessons and Carols last night we heard these words of the last century’s greatest Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple. Reflecting on what was read tonight from St John’s Gospel and, in particular, the phrase ‘...the light shines in the darkness...’ Archbishop Temple wrote:

Imagine yourself standing alone on some headland in a dark night. At the foot of the headland is a lighthouse or beacon, not casting rays on every side, but throwing one bar of light through the darkness. It is some such image that John had before his mind.

The beam of light projected from the headland out onto the sea of human life is the Word of God, the eternal Life which is, as St John has just affirmed, ‘the Light of men’.

The Archbishop then goes on, as St John does, to consider John the Baptist, the man ‘sent from God’, who came to give witness to the light which is Christ. ‘Here is one of those’, he says of John the Baptist, ‘who act as beacons for pilgrims by reflecting the light. But he did more than reflect it; he pointed to it and bade men follow, not him, but it...He was a voice...He to whom John pointed was the light itself’.[3]

In other words John stood in the shaft of divine light; and so strong was that light; so completely was John bathed in it, that the light which is Christ could splay out from John as a prism refracts a single pure ray of light into a rainbow of colours. That was, if you like, John’s position: standing within the brilliant beam of Christ’s light in the belief that Jesus, in all of his genuine flesh-and-blood humanity, really is both the ‘effulgence of God’s splendour’ (Hebrews 1.3) and ‘God-with-us’, Emmanuel (Matthew 1.23).

In these opening words of his Gospel, St John wants us all to consider our position. Not in the sense of asking ourselves whether we measure up to tasks at hand, responsibilities assigned, or protocols required. The challenge St John puts to us is more basic; it’s basic to living life, basic also to the possibility of attaining the potential of our humanity both here and hereafter.

In declaring that such a powerful, brilliant shaft of Light has shone into our world since the first Christmas, St John challenges us to stand within its beam. St John declares that our ‘receiving’ Christ means that, while we walk amid surrounding shadow and darkness, Jesus Christ, the Father’s ‘kindly light’[4], leads us on. For the Light in which we stand, and to which we bear witness, is a Light that darkness cannot conquer.

So this Christmas, with that powerful beam of light piercing through the darkness from the headland in our mind’s eye, let’s all of us consider our position. When you’re peering into the smouldering embers of the fireplace; or contemplating the Christmas tree early in the morning or before bed; or out for a walk to shake off the seasonal lassitude; or secretly wondering as you get ready for bed what all the fuss is really about; ask yourself this question: “Am I standing within that single, powerful beam of the Christ Light and reflecting it on to others?”.

That’s our Christmas task and privilege: to consider our position.

Amen.

~

@ The Revd Dr Charles Miller, Team Rector

St Helen’s Church, Abingdon-on-Thames

Christmas Eve, December 24th 2018

 

[1] As distinct from a ‘sequel’.

[2] Typically read at carol services and on Christmas Day.

[3] Readings in St John’s Gospel, pp. 7, 8-9.

[4] Newman’s phrase; see the hymn ‘Lead, kindly light’.