Sermon for Christmas Eve - Philip Plyming

Monday 25 December 2023

Luke 2:10

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’

What’s the best news you have had this year? The hospital tests that came back all clear? The job offer that finally arrived? Some exam results that made what you want to do possible? An email saying you got those Taylor Swift concert tickets?

We live in a world in need of good news. The cheer of life on Christmas Eve cannot but temporarily mask the challenges faced by us and so many in our world today. Cost of living, climate crisis, political instability, conflict in so many places. And those aren’t just headlines in the paper or alerts in our news feed. They have an impact on daily lives such as yours and mine. And that is without mentioning the challenges of ongoing anxiety and broken relationships faced by so many of us.

Tonight my mind is drawn back again to the city of Bethlehem where I sat just a few months ago sipping mint and lemonade overlooking Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world. Normally Manger Square would be home to an enormous Christmas tree and there would be pilgrims from all over the world gathered to celebrate the birth of Christ. Not tonight. The tragic and traumatic events in southern Israel and Gaza have had an impact across the Holy Land. Seeing – and experiencing - so much suffering Christians decided it was not appropriate to celebrate in the same way as before.

So what does good news look like on a night like tonight and in a world like ours? Can I suggest we listen afresh to the angels, for when they announced good news of great joy for all people, they weren’t just announcing this to all people then, but to all people now as well. This is good news for ages.

But it was good news found in a surprising place. For this was not the good news of a military victory (that was what good news tended to mean in those days). And it wasn’t the good news of a cut in interest rates or a reduction in inflation. The good news was so unlikely that the shepherds had to be told where to find it. Into Google maps had to go the instructions: Bethlehem, manger, baby.

The good news was a baby. Now the birth of a baby is almost always good news for family and friends, but not for the whole world. But it is the identity of this baby that makes it good news for all people. For this baby – Jesus – was announced by the angels as the Saviour, the Lord. This baby was none other than God visiting the world in human form to save it.

Here’s the thing we can so often overlook. The world hasn’t changed that much since that first Christmas night and tonight. What humans need – and what only God can provide – hasn’t fundamentally altered. From the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus then to the person sitting behind a pillar here in church tonight – we all need help to come back to God, find our real meaning and live lives of peace with others. And Google can’t deliver that. AI can’t deliver that. Even Deliveroo can’t. Only God can.

And only God did. Not from far away but in coming close in Jesus. In Jesus, the baby crying in a manger. In Jesus, the healer touching the untouched. In Jesus, the teacher telling stories of God’s love. In Jesus, the innocent man being nailed to a cross to pay the price for our sin. In Jesus, the resurrected one beating up death once and for all. In Jesus, the Saviour who loved and loves us so much.

That is the good news of great joy. And it is for all people, in every generation and in good times and bad. Whether you feel really at home here tonight or wonder what you are doing here. Whether what I am saying makes a lot of sense or there are bits that are very hazy. Whatever good news you have or haven’t had this past year. This is good news for you.

And it is good news for the world.

Tonight there is no Christmas tree in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. But just a few hours ago there was in the Church of the Nativity a service just like this, recalling the good news of great joy. Not good news that rubs out all the pain. Not good news that ignores suffering. But good news that God has acted decisively to show us he loves and he cares and he can save. This is good news which Christians in the Holy Land hold on to and draw from as they seek to witness to the peace-making love of Christ.

The invitation to us is the same as it was to the shepherds that first Christmas night: to go and look. Each one of us, whether we think of ourselves as religious or not, is invited to explore more carefully the evidence and life and person of Jesus Christ. Find a church or a cathedral near you and ask the questions you want. Read one of the gospels – an account of Jesus’ life - from start to finish. Just come along to worship and let the good news of Jesus soak in. As we do so we will find ourselves giving glory to God as the angels and the shepherds did, as people are doing in Bethlehem tonight and as people have done in this Cathedral for the last 900 years.

In a moment we will sing a familiar carol, O little town of Bethlehem. It invites us to see that town as the place where the hopes and fears of the world are centred and where a wondrous gift was given. And its last verse can be sung as a prayer to be offered by each one us who have heard afresh this Christmas night the glad tidings, the good news of Jesus.

O holy child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.


Very Revd Dr Philip Plyming