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Sermon: Eucharist - 28 December 2014

Sunday 28th December 2014
Cathedral Eucharist
1 Corinthians 1: 26-29
Matthew 2: 3-18

In less than 9 months Frozen has gone from being just another Disney movie to potentially the best settling DVD of the decade.  In remaking Hans Christian Anderson's fable for the snow queen, Disney didn't create an obvious villain. Instead they focused on the relationship between two siblings, Elsa and Anna.   There are emotional outbursts which reveal our capacity to injure others. In Elsa's case, it's her ability to turn all around her to snow and ice.  Jealousy, misunderstanding, confusion and shame are woven into the plot - as are the consequences of living in fear.

Elsa's ballad  Let it go has been sung at school assemblies and work parties up and down the country this Christmas.  It is an explosive song of self-determination.  The howling wind echoes the swirling storm inside Elsa; she vows to let the storm rage on.  Rather than concealing her feelings she tests the limits of her power; she proclaims that she is free.  Letting go is a reckless rush of self-empowerment as  Elsa sings about her

soul spiralling in frozen fractals and her  thoughts crystallising like an icy blast. She vows: I'm never going back, the past is the past.

She is the Queen of a kingdom of isolation. Separation is seen as a means of self-protection or liberation. In reality the consequences compound fear.  Elsa's letting go unleashes an eternal winter for the kingdom she's left behind; the cost of her freedom is a lifetime of self-imposed exile. 

Frozen breaks down certain stereotypes of love at first sight; or the dashing hero saving the day.  Instead Anna's demonstrates the determination to seek reconciliation; it is an admirable expression of sisterly affection and commitment.  There is a happy ending. As a result of an act of true love, the castle gates of Elsa's kingdom are flung open.  She learns that love is the key to controlling her powers. 

Writing in The New Statesman, Rowan reflects that Disneyfied fairy tales become a drama of the individual psyche with supernatural special effects... offering salvation through the discovery of unsuspected inner resources (we can all be what we most want to be). Frozen changes nothing.  We can sing Let it go as often as we like; but our inner resources are not enough.

We live in a murky, brutal and complex world.  Yes, there are profound moments of joy, delight, self-giving and generosity; yes, our news headlines are shot through with glimpses of justice, compassion and reconciliation.  It is also the world where girls are abducted in Nigeria, where Al Qaida attack schools in Pakistan, where human trafficking is still a reality.  It is a world in which power and fear corrupt and destroy.    It is into such a world as this that the Christ-child is born.

Our Gospel reading leaves us with the horror of Herod's fury; it reminds us of the way in which insecurity and power can envelop our lives.  The whole of Jerusalem was caught up in the implications of an infant's threat to stability.  Herod snatched away his people's future in the destruction of children.  The catastrophic consequences of desire to cling to power is repeated in the lives of men and women in our own generation. 

The Christmas proclamation that God so loved the world that he sent us his Son is the most hopeful and most disruptive sign of reconciliation that there is. Hopeful because there is no where where God is not; our humanity is glorified.  Disruptive because divine vulnerability shifts the balance of power in a fearful and war-torn world.  We sing carols for days on end; then tidy away the crib and dismantle the tree.  But the birth of the Christ-child is just the beginning.  His rule is not kingdom of isolation or Disneyfication; it is a kingdom of justice and equity which challenges the human tendency to control or oppress.

The hope and joy of wise men contrast with Herod's fear and rage.  Their gifts reveal who this child is: our king and our God; the suffering servant who lays down his life for love of the world.  Their journey continues along another road; they're witnesses to peace in vulnerability, power in weakness. Joseph too must take his family along another road. 

They must flee and seek protection.

Herod searches and destroys; he is infuriated and kills.

There is wailing and lamentation.

We feel silenced and helpless; we lament and cry out. 

The Gospel is not a fairy tale  but the way in which God addresses the world. God reaches out to us - to all who suffer - in vulnerability. God continues to reach out to mothers crying out, to communities whose future is disrupted by the loss of children.  God reaches out in Jesus Christ to bear the weight of pain and violence on the cross; God reaches out in the resurrection to demonstrate that human wrath does not extinguish the love of God.  God reaches out in the power of the Spirit to call us to live in the light of that hope.

The world transforming reality of the Gospel is a glimmer of resistance and hope; but it living in the light of that is demanding and costly.  It cannot be done by relying on our own inner resources. We live in a world where human beings go to destructive lengths to retain power; yet rather than being powerless, our vulnerable acts of compassion are powerful. 

Trusting in Jesus, God with us, is not an escape from world; nor is it an attempt to conquer it in our own strength.  Rather, in him we seek the transformation of all that is.  The promise and challenge of that is held in our Eucharist. Here God continues to give himself to us in the ordinary stuff of bread and wine; a sign of abundance and hope in a broken and fragile world.  Here we find assurance forgiveness, faithful love and renewed hope of peace.  

The Gospel makes manifest the power of love in birth and death and in risen life; in a human family, in a complex world, in the midst of agony and grief.  Such love shifts our horizons away from control, manipulation, acquisitiveness and old grievances.  The change of heart wrought by God's reconciling love disrupts our tribalism and longing to control  It demands that we look beyond ourselves to a hope that is beyond us.

Love in a speechless dependency of an infant is the ultimate manifestation of strength in weakness. God with us changes our reality and our perspective in the power of the Spirit.   We are to pray that our lives will frustrate the evil designs of others; that we might be agents of hope and reconciliation.  Hope that is rooted in a love that liberates us.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the power of God's love to take what appears to be foolish and weak to shame the strong.   His words apply also to us - we aren't wise, perfect or influential.  In the course of our lives, there is much that lies beyond our control.   Yet, in Christ we are children of God.  We are assured that we are loved. That is a gift of freedom.  Knowing that we can do nothing of ourselves, but through the power of God in us.  We can lay aside our desires for recognition or self-assertion; we have a new dignity and renewed purpose.

Frozen gives us a fantasy of self-fulfilment and tidy endings. Jesus transforms our reality; in him we find forgiveness and peace.  In him human standards of wisdom, power, status and inheritance are negated.  The Word of God comes and dwells with us; he took the form of a servant.  Jesus doesn't merely show us love, actually.  He doesn't merely validate our human expressions of love.  Rather he demonstrates redemptive love, actually.  Only he can forgive us, recall us, draw us into abundant life; he enables us to be agents of reconciliation.