Living God's Love Values - Generosity, Joy, Imagination and Courage
Living God's Love Values - Generosity, Joy, Imagination and Courage

Bishop of St Albans speaks of Christ’s birth as the true Force Awakening

In his Christmas sermon, given at St Albans’s Cathedral during Matins on Christmas morning 2015, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, compares and contrasts the Star Wars story, ‘The Force Awakens,’ the the story of Christ’s birth, to address some of the complexities of bringing peace in the world before, in conclusion, quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian Pastor executed by Hitler for his faith:

‘God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken. (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas).’
The Bishop continues: “Indeed, he loves each one of us. This is the true force which has awakened in the world. This is the true wonder of Christmas and it has the power to transform us for good.”
In the sermon, he reminds us that the world is not as simple as a struggle between god and evil, as good stories in films or fiction portray the moral ambiguities of situations. This is in contrast to those “siren voices” reported in the media who simplify things into black and white – such as Donald Trump, not named in the sermon, but referred to”

“There are plenty of siren voices in the media who find a ready audience when they talk about a world which is black and white. It’s not just Daesh or Isis – you only have to listen to a particularly well known American politician at the moment to hear the same sort of thing.”

Dr Smith goes on to say: “….the lesson of history is that naked force can only get us so far,” and that the Christmas story is about another force awakening: the power of God’s love, which drew people of all kinds to come and worship the baby in the manger. This leads him to his conclusion:

In a backyard stable, ‘The Force Awakens’. But the ‘force’ of which I am speaking is not some product of Hollywood imagination, but nothing less than the power of God’s infinite love, revealed in weakness and in vulnerability in this child of Bethlehem. Mary speaks of it in her Magnificat, that wonderful song of praise:

He [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty

Read the whole sermon here:

The Bishop of St Albans

Christmas sermon December 2015

St Albans Cathedral, 25.12.15

Thirty-four years ago as a young curate I remember preaching on the second of the Star Wars films: The Empire Strikes Back. It was a family service and during my sermon a live, menacing Darth Vader strode up the aisle of the church demanding to know the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker – who, exactly on cue, then rose up out of the pulpit, wielding his light sabre. The point of the sermon was to explore themes of light and darkness.

It wasn’t one of my more successful family service talks as several young children burst into tears, terrified by the tall black figure who stood half way down the aisle. After the service I was confronted with several irate parents who said I should not have scared their children. Well, we all have to live and learn.

This week the televisions and papers are full of the seventh Star Wars film in the series: The Force Awakens. It is expected that it will have greater box office takings than any other film. The enduring popularity of these films is that, like the old Westerns, they portray the age-old struggle between good and evil. The two main characters, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, were even dressed in white and black to make the point about who is the good guy and who is bad guy.

But like all the best drama which explores the struggle between good and evil, it’s never quite that simple. You see, originally Darth Vader was on the side of good. He was a Jedi knight who fell to the ‘dark side of the Force’ and served the evil Galactic Empire. Even more interestingly, Luke Skywalker, it eventually turns out, was Darth Vader’s son which made their fight all the more striking, as father and son battled it out to the death.

It’s the introduction of moral ambiguity which makes the difference between storytelling and great drama as Shakespeare knew only too well in plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth and as Tolkien demonstrated in The Lord of the Rings.

But it’s not just films that suggest that the world is a simple fight between good and evil. There are plenty of siren voices in the media who find a ready audience when they talk about a world which is black and white. It’s not just Daesh or Isis – you only have to listen to a particularly well known American politician at the moment to hear the same sort of thing.

Such siren voices usually suggest that the greatest power in the world is brute force – and that the only way to confront violence is with even greater violence. Sometimes they urge to rush to war, hoping that that result of the ‘force awakening’ will be peace. But the lesson of history is that naked force can only get us so far. Eventually, people have to sit down and negotiate. Sometimes we need something or someone to break the endless cycle of violence.

Well, when we turn to the first accounts of the birth of Jesus we meet not only good and bad characters, such as Jesus and Herod, but we find that everything is a little more complicated that it first appears. The sequence of events surprise us and confound our expectations. We see a new and a different kind of ‘force awakening’. As we gaze on the scene in the stable, it is almost as if we were witnessing the first Eucharist, with the manger an altar on which lies the Christ child: weak and vulnerable. The young teenage Mary raises the baby to her breast. She is the first person to elevate the body of Christ and offer him for the salvation of the world.

Gradually the congregation gathers in the draughty stable. It contains the most unexpected people, for in that culture shepherds were social outcasts, along with prostitutes. Shepherds were ostracized because inevitably they dealt with dead animals and therefore were not even allowed into the temple to worship. Yet here they are in the stable, the first to arrive for the Eucharist.

And then there were the magi, the strange exotic characters, who come to worship, again from the outside. These foreigners understand the significance of this child, better that all those who were thronging the streets of Bethlehem on that first Christmas morning. Their offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh are mysterious: gold representing Christ’s kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh prefiguring his death and his embalming.

At that first Eucharist in a backyard stable The Force Awakens. But the ‘force’ of which I am speaking is not some product of Hollywood imagination, but nothing less than the power of God’s infinite love, revealed in weakness and in vulnerability in this child of Bethlehem. Mary speaks of it in her Magnificat, that wonderful song of praise:

He [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was executed by Hitler for his faith 70 years ago, and whose statue stands on the screen behind me, echoed this same theme:

And that is the wonder of all wonders, that … God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.  (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas).  Indeed, he loves each one of us.

This is the true force which has awakened in the world. This is the true wonder of Christmas and it has the power to transform us for good. So today we join with the angels singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’.

+Alan St Albans

 

 

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