Fr Andrew's Christmas message
Christmas cancelled!? Well clearly some things are. At short notice family arrangements have had to be drastically altered or indeed cancelled. Many more people will be alone, many more people will feel isolated. Judging by the news reports, many more people will be ill and in hospital. Sadly more people will die, changing the lives of their loved ones for ever.
It seems a pretty bleak picture.
I want to introduce a family to you. Their names are fictitious, but they are real in the sense that this family was real, although this story is embellished.
Meet Alec and Agatha. They are Father and Mother of a young man who has just died. In fact, he was violently murdered. He was a lovely lad. He was much liked and did nothing but good. He was a Christian and devoted his life to the poor and particularly widows and orphans. He worked for the local soup kitchen.
He was brave too. He spoke up for them, and didn’t mind who he offended when he spoke truth to power. Alec and Agatha were good people and they did their best to bring up their son well. They were delighted when their son went into social work and delighted too that he became a Christian. What more could they want. But then it all went wrong.
Of course the young man I am referring to is Stephen, the Patron Saint of our parish. The point I am trying to make, is that Stephen, was not a ‘plaster saint’. He was a real person, with a family, with a mother and father who loved him and would have been devastated when he was murdered just for being good and speaking the truth. Over the centuries there have been many such as Stephen and they are around today. In other parts of the world people are being murdered just because they are Christians.
In our own experience there are people who, because they are Christians, see their vocation to work in difficult and dangerous settings. Countless more risk be made fun of because of their faith. Other, maybe not even Christians, commit themselves to work in low paid unpleasant work because they want to help others. We often forget that our whole system of social work and hospital health care is built upon a Christian foundation, largely a monastic one. (Incidentally, that’s why some nurses to this day are called sister).
Over this pandemic we have seen that those who are truly valuable in our society are not the powerful, or wealthy. They are not overpaid footballers or politicians. Rather they are our healthcare workers, our teachers, our shop workers, our lorry drivers. They are the ones who have kept our country going. And they all have families.
Stephen saw something in Jesus. He saw something in the desire to help the poor. He saw it was necessary to speak up for those who could not speak up for themselves. And he lost his life for so doing. Stephen was the first of many thousands of Christian martyrs.
So why did he do it? Well, he did it because he was inspired by what – or rather who - we are celebrating this weekend. Just before he was murdered, Stephen said this:
(Acts Ch 7)
Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Stephen was inspired because he saw in Jesus someone worth following. He saw that God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son. At Christmas we see that Jesus, The Word, became man, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
Christmas will be different this year. For many, a much sadder time. But Christmas most certainly has not been cancelled. Look around. Everywhere there are people weeping just like Stephen’s family. But there too, are people just like Stephen, who because of Jesus, born in poverty 2,000 years ago, make the world a better place.
And here, in this church dedicated in honour of St Stephen, Jesus comes again to be with us, under the forms of bread and wine. We, like Stephen are called to go out into the World to proclaim the Good News that ‘Love came down at Christmas.’
A well-known Bishop, Frank Weston, speaking in 1923 put it like this:
"You have received Jesus in the Holy Sacrament. Now,] “Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet."
That is Christmas.