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Sermon: Guildford School of Acting Carol Service

Thursday 13th December 2012
St Nicolas, Guildford
Carol Service

It is so good to be here tonight; and thank you Fr Andrew for welcoming us to your church. I am here in my capacity as Anglican chaplain to the University of Surrey and GSA. I had the privilege of being with you last year in this beautiful church, a church that over the years has been so woven into the fabric of GSA, and I was so struck, as I just have been again by your singing and presence, with the vibrancy, life and colour that you bring here, and that is reflected in your faces, your singing and the way in which you express yourselves in body and voice.

Christmas is a time for celebration, a time of vibrancy and life and colour. This time of year, in northern climes, has always been a time when we want to brighten up the gloom, warm up and breathe life into a cold world. No wonder we bring greenery inside, and have tinsel that looks like frost, but less cold.

Of course there is a shadow side to all of that too. For some people in our world it is hard to celebrate their lives and situations, and Christmas can magnify that unbearably for them. For every happy family there is a family in the pain of being apart; for every beautifully wrapped present there is someone going hungry or into debt.

The art, I believe, of a good Christmas is to take seriously the words of our first carol and to focus on what is at the heart of the celebration,

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

It sounds lovely, but how is it true? If we’re here for an hour then throughout the world some 14,400 babies will have been born; some into unimaginable poverty, and some into unimaginable luxury. The birth of a child represents hope and possibilities and aspirations; the world is her oyster. But the birth of a child also magnifies fears: what sort of world is this child being born into? 

For countless men and women encounter with the child of Bethlehem has been the place where their hopes and fears have come together and been transformed. I know that of my own life. Jesus Christ is my hope and casts out my fears. But there are times when fear can overtake us and we put on an act: a brave face covers inner pains, our persona or body image outdoes an interior life.

It seems odd to say to a school of acting, that at Christmas we don’t need to put on an act: there are few things more grim than forced jollity. At Christmas we are caught up in a bigger drama, the performance of love made visible in the scriptwriter, producer and director of our very existence, God, revealed in Jesus Christ.

As we begin our celebration tonight full of vibrancy, life and colour, bring your hopes and your fears, the hopes and fears of the world. And when you go from here may your life be enriched. As that carol continued,

We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel