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Sermon: University of Surrey Carol Service

Wednesday 2nd December 2015
Guildford Cathedral

+ In nomine Patris…

After the border check the couple continued on their way. It was all getting very hard. The woman was pregnant, expecting her first child, the man carrying as many of their possessions as he could. His paperwork was checked to confirm that he was authorised to be in that town. So they had arrived, but would they have anywhere to stay?

You may be wondering what that account is of. What’s it got to do with Christmas?

It could be an account of Joseph and the pregnant Mary arriving in Bethlehem, having their papers checked, and yet finding nowhere to stay.

Or, it could have been a contemporary report of a family of refugees today, on the borders of our European comfort zone having journeyed from Syria or Iraq.

It is, of course, both.

And after the birth of Jesus, as we know, King Herod sought to kill him. And again Mary and Joseph were on the move, fleeing into Egypt as refugees, to avoid the massacre of innocent children.

These journeys of flight from war, terror and murder are not how we want to, or should, live.

Humanity itself needs to go on a journey of transformation, and this is what Christmas invites us to: a changed, renewed world as we live the promises and purposes of God.

God does not will for us a world where we see, ‘the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood’ (Isaiah 9.??) as our first reading described, but rather, a world in which all authority rests upon the shoulders of the one named, ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9.??)

Journeys, transformation and the movement of people are central to the Christmas story: journeys to God and from God.

Shepherds in the fields leave their task of looking after the sheep and go on a journey to Bethlehem and seek the new born child, the Good Shepherd.

Magi, who today might be known as the ‘boffins’, the equivalent of today’s academics, searching and researching after knowledge, wisdom and truth, got up from their desks, walked out of their labs, as it were, and sought and found truth in the Child of Bethlehem.

The journey of the Magi is interesting because they came by one route and, as the gospel tells us, they went home by another route, signifying a change of life and purpose (Matthew 2.1-12).

That change of purpose is effected through the person at the heart of Christmas: Jesus Christ, the beginning and the end of all our journeying.

Our final reading from St John’s gospel, in deeply mystical language, tells us two really significant things that challenge us today.

The first challenge is that God, in Christ, ‘dwelt among us’, which literally in the original Greek of the New Testament should be translated, ‘pitched his tent among us’.

Someone who pitches a tent is on a journey. A journey stripped of everything but the basics for life.

Tents pitched in camps have become the sign of the refugee, and just as God in Jesus Christ shares our lives, so he is with those refugees today.

The second challenge is that Jesus, just like the refugees today, received no hospitality, neither in the inn, not ultimately in the world: he died on a cross outside the walls, the comfort zone of the city.

The final reading tonight, from St John’s gospel, tells us, ‘[Jesus’] own people did not accept him’.

But with those two challenges, of God dwelling among us in a tent and not receiving hospitality, is a promise.

That promise, St John says, is that, ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1.??)

At Christmas, today, every day, Jesus Christ is on a journey towards you and me, unworthy as we might think we are, and he comes and stands knocking on the doors of our hearts (Revelation 3.12). ‘You are precious, worthy and loved’, he say. ‘Do you hear me knocking?’ he says. ‘Will you open the door and allow me in?’ he asks.

May you be most blessed this Christmas: and being blessed, hear the cry of the refugee, the lonely, the homeless and outcast. Hear the knock of Jesus, the one born in the manger, give him the warmth of your life and receive his love.