The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster
Just as the poor shepherds and the wealthy wise men came to worship the Christ child, so we have come from east and west, from north and south, to worship our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, whose birth this day we celebrate. After all the preparations, for many of us the last minute rush, all the anxiety about what we might have forgotten, the time has come to rest for a moment and to enjoy this beautiful feast. May our celebration of Christmas be a true blessing for us all, and for the world.
In the past few years, for the great services of Christmas, to avoid vast queues of people who might be disappointed when the Abbey was full to bursting, we have been using an online ticket-booking organisation. So, we can have a rough idea where we have all come from. And we have come from many, many countries all over the world. Members of this great congregation have come from South Africa and Zimbabwe and Nigeria, others from Brazil, Canada and the United States, yet others from Doha and Dubai, from Beijing and Hong Kong and Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, from across Europe, from Scotland and Ireland and across England. Some of us have even come from London.
So we reflect the wonderful diversity of the Christian community, the Church of God throughout the world. And what unites us is so much stronger than what divides us. Of course, in this particular moment, what unites us above all is that we have come to this great church to celebrate the mystery and beauty of God. Here we are surrounded by history. There are about 3,300 people buried here and over 600 monuments. Of the many burials, a great number are of people we would never have heard of; monks and lay staff from the Abbey's first 600 years. Most of the monuments were placed here in the past 450 years and commemorate famous people, at least in their own time. Some of the kings and queens were powerful and no doubt forceful. That must have been true of many of the soldiers and sailors and airmen, of the innovative thinkers, the scientists and politicians, the writers and actors, the explorers and the settlers. It may well be that some of them used methods and instruments to enforce their will that we would now deplore. A hundred years ago, people spoke of the Abbey as our national mausoleum. I like to think of the Abbey as a celebration of the people and language of the British Isles and their world-wide influence.
So, does that mean a celebration of power, even of force? And does that leave us feeling a little anxious, a touch queasy? We see in this particular moment how terribly power can be abused. We have seen in the past year how destructive can be the use of force, the brute force of terror, of public executions, of beheadings and crucifixions, of rape and pillage and slaughter, the blatant force of horrific violence perpetrated against innocent people enjoying their undoubted right to relax and celebrate with a congenial meal, a drink, a concert. We should remember how terribly power has been abused in the history of Christianity, in the religious wars across Europe and here in the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; wars that created havoc and confusion. We should not shield our faces from this history, much of it reflected in this church building. But, surely, there is a better way.
There is a better way—the way of Christ. People have too often misunderstood, or misinterpreted this better way, or, through our human limitations, perverted it to destructive ends. The way of Christ is not a theory, an idea or a concept. Nor is it hard to grasp. We see the way of Christ in the little baby, homeless and without a bed, born in a stable, laid in a manger, the animal's eating trough. We see the way of Christ in the adult Jesus, who, told by a rabbi that he would follow him wherever he went, said, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' We see the way of Christ in the arrest and trial, the mocking and scourging, the crown of thorns and the purple robe, the way of the cross, the way of passion and death. We truly see the way of Christ as a way of humility, a way of self-emptying, a way of serving to the end.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is 'the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.' This means that, if we wish to know God, we can—and need only—look to our Lord Jesus Christ. In his life, passion and death, he shows us what God is. He shows us God absolutely in the love, humility, suffering and generosity which are characteristic of Jesus Christ's way.
It must be theoretically conceivable that God would make us believe in him, require us to worship him; that God would dominate us, play us as puppets on a string. But that is not the way of Christ. Nor is it the way of God. He comes to us in humility. He comes to us as a vulnerable baby. He enables us to follow in his way, to be humble and generous, to serve.
Jesus comes to us tonight in bread and wine. In his generous and gracious love, he comes to us as our Saviour. 'When the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done but according to his mercy.'
God himself came to us in weakness, vulnerability, humility, to show us the way of salvation and to open to each of us the way to forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and joy. There is so much to celebrate tonight. Thanks be to God! A very happy Christmas to you and yours.