Bishop Martin's Homily at Chichester Cathedral on Thursday 21 December
Has your house been in the newspaper this month?
If it’s got loads of Christmas lights all over the outside, it might have been. There was a special feature on houses like that a couple of weeks ago.
It may come as no surprise that generally my inclination is to be mightily grumpy about all this. In my house there are Christmas lights, but strictly on the inside, and only in the best possible taste (we are the C of E, after all!), though I have a suspicion that tinsel emerges in the downstairs office when I’m out of the room. I’ve noticed traces of it, and when you are as closely related to Ebenezer Scrooge as I seem to be, you have an instinct for this sort of thing.
But, I also have to say that I am a bit ashamed of this. What I’m ashamed of is giving the impression that as soon as people find something that they think is fun and perfectly harmless, the Church finds a person, like me, to come a long and say, “We disapprove”.
So, let’s rewind a little bit and let me ask myself, “What’s your problem, Martin?”
Well there is a bit of a problem about cost and use of resources. I can’t help thinking that we have become so greedy and casual in our use of the earth’s resources that we don’t any longer notice the difference between what we need and what we feel we can afford to waste. But there is something more fundamental, I think, and it’s about the nature of a home.
Like many other people I was very moved by the trailer for a Channel 4 Christmas message from children who survived the catastrophic fire in Grenfell House.
Having lost their home in the most terrible way, they are aware of just how important a home is. A home is where you should be safe, where you are loved and where you find the people you love, where you celebrate things that matter, where memories are made that shape your life.
A home is also where you become part of a local community because this is where you practise hospitality.
At the heart of this carol service is the image of a home. We discover that two of the leading characters, Mary and Joseph, have a profound experience of God, in their own homes: Joseph, when he’s at home asleep, and Mary when, by tradition, she was doing household chores.
Then there is the experience of being homeless when the baby is born, but finding joy and hope in the kindness of strangers who give them a home.
And to this home Mary and Joseph welcome rough and ready guests: shepherds they don’t know, and spooky Magi whom we would today describe as intellectual, Guardian-reading types that come from Islington. And there is more. It is in the very ordinary setting of a home, even a makeshift one, that God’s love is revealed. When we look into the crib it is not only the Christ child that we see; we are also invited to see ourselves as children of God who are destined for the perfection and beauty of a home in heaven.
With or without Christmas lights and tinsel, this cathedral, like any other church, is where you are invited to be at home with the God who made you, who loves you, and who was born in Bethlehem in order that you could become your best self, and live in the fulfilment of friendship with God. In the Grenfell broadcast, 10 year old Amiel Miller’s Christmas message is this: “It’s not all about getting presents, it’s also about giving.”
A new and deep relationship with God might be a present you’re not yet ready or willing to receive. But Amiel is absolutely right: Christmas is about giving: it is about what God has given you – his Son, Jesus Christ and the promise of life in all its fullness.
I hope and pray that the news of this gift will indeed be your “tidings of comfort and joy” this Christmas.