2015 Archbishop of Adelaide Christmas Sermon

 

 

2015 CHRISTMAS SERMON

St Peter’s Cathedral

 

GOD’S STRANGE WAY TO PEACE
 

This year again we have been confronted with the savagery of people who believe they have a right to inflict their view of God on others, even at the pain of death.

Events like those in Paris and Mali not so many weeks ago and ongoing atrocities in places like Syria and Iraq were committed by those who believe in a God of violence and vengeful power.

Christmas challenges such a view of God.

Christmas challenges such a view of the world.

At Christmas we celebrate God’s approach in the most vulnerable and defenceless human form: that of a child. 

The gospels portray Joseph and Mary being forced onto the road; a birth in a manger, probably a cave, then with their newborn child, barely escaping a brutal massacre and fleeing to asylum in Egypt.

God is not found among the conquerors, but among the victims; 

God is not found on the side of the mighty, but among the vulnerable.

The Old Testament reading tonight comes out the Middle East centuries before the birth of Christ; torn by war then, as it is now.

The Assyrian armies had already conquered Babylon -- modern day Iraq --  as well as Syria and were sweeping through Israel, killing and marauding as they went. Israel’s allies had abandoned her, and Ahaz the king was staring at national annihilation. It was a strangely contemporary scenario.

But into this chaos steps the prophet Isaiah came with his strange message of peace:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
His name is wonderful, counsellor, everlasting Father;
Prince of peace.

Most people will know these words because they have been immortalised in Handel’s Messiah and associated with the beauty of Christmas.

But they were first uttered into the politics of war.

And strange words they must have seen indeed.

Most people will know these words because they have been immortalised in Handel’s Messiah and associated with the beauty of Christmas.

But they were first uttered into the politics of war.

And strange words they must have seen indeed.

 Ahaz and his advisors were desperately casting around for a way to stop invasion;

Give me more swords, give me chariots
give me cruise missiles and bombs!

The prophet Isaiah, a senior advisor to the King, comes to the war cabinet speaking of a baby.
To the generals and warriors, it must have seemed like nonsense:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given

But these are not just the words of a religious recluse unaware of the realities of battle. Isaiah knows the hard facts of war; the boot of the tramping warrior and every garment rolled in blood.

But in his vision of a vulnerable, harmless child,
he critiques the assumption that wars are ended by wars;
that conflict is the best instrument to end conflict;
that armies are the best bringers of peace,
that God is on the side of those who hold the machine guns.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, a young man called Jurgen Moltmann found himself among crowds of German prisoners of war in a POW camp in Scotland, still shattered and desolate, he caught a glimpse of hope in the picture of a defenceless child; the divine child of Christmas.

Later, he wrote this reflection on the words of Isaiah that we heard tonight:

A child is innocent. A child is the beginning of a new life. His defencelessness makes our armaments superfluous. We can put away our rifles and our closed fists.  His innocence redeems us from the curse of the evil act which is bound to breed ever more evil. We no longer have to go on like this.  And his birth opens up for us the future of a life in peace that is different from all life hitherto, since that life was bound up with death.
"For to us a child is born.  To us a son is given. The government shall be upon his shoulder".  The liberator becomes a pleading child in our world, armed to the teeth as it is[i].

A baby.

That most vulnerable human presence.

On those occasions when proud parents present us with their incredibly small, vulnerable, infant, we are inevitably drawn, touched and warmed. 

We reach out a finger, perhaps, to have it grasped by the tiniest hand and somehow there is an almost holy moment of connection with innocence.

A baby.

Isaiah, called to speak a word to a people who were in the darkness of war, had a vision of peace in the birth of a child, in the vulnerability of a baby.

But Isaiah the prophet could only see the shadowy outline of the one who would be born for the freedom of the world, the wonderful counsellor, the Prince of Peace.

The Christmas Gospel proclaims to us the person himself. He is Jesus Christ, the child in the manger, the preacher on the mount, the tormented man on the Cross, the risen liberator.

The child of Christmas.
A family with next to nothing finding refuge in a manger;
an appalling scene; a remarkably 21st century scene, a beautiful scene.

God is found where the powerful do not expect,
where the strong and privileged may not look,
in need and nakedness, in dependency and gift,
a birth, a baby, and finally in a broken and tortured
body, hung in the ultimate vulnerability of dying:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given

To those in our world who claim divine justification for acts of terror, the child of Christmas points to God’s different way:

vulnerability. Identification with the suffering.

To those in the world who claim their religion is beyond critique, whether through the examination of scholarship, or even the barb of journalism, the child of Christmas points to God’s different way:

         vulnerability. The defencelessness of a child.

To those in the Church who might feel their calling puts them beyond giving an account, the child of Christmas points to God’s different way:

vulnerability.  The openness of a child.

God’s strange politics of power:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given

And to each of us, in our own lives and needs,
this child brings this message of vulnerability and love.
As we face our first Christmas dinner without someone we love.
in the floundering darkness of our broken family relationships.
in the journey through the shadows of terminal illness,
in the worry we carry for our children,
in our uncertainty about our own future
even in the dark emotions we can barely admit.

The vulnerable moments.
The child of Christmas.
a birth, a baby, a broken body on a Cross.

God’s is present in our deepest, darkest needs
and in our most vulnerable moments:

A birth.  A baby.  God’s strange way of peace.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given

May the Christ child touch your Christmas with his love.

The Most Rev’d Dr Jeffrey Driver
Archbishop of Adelaide


[i]  Moltmann, J.,  "The Power of the Powerless", London, SCM 1983. p 35