Last Christmas

So, it has been the last Christmas of the decade and what a great place to end with a ‘Gavin and Stacey’ special on Christmas Day.  After almost a decade it was reassuring to know that not that much has changed in our society, that millions of us could still tune in together, at the same time, to watch a Christmas special.  Perhaps we are not as divided as we feared!  It felt like the old days when we would settle down to watch ‘The Morecombe and Wise Show’ to see which TV celebrity would be making a fool of themselves or showing what a good sport they were.  Angela Rippon, Glenda Jackson, Andre Previn, they all appeared.  But the trip back to Billericay and Barry was heartwarming and I have to admit to shedding a tear as Ness knelt before Smithy at the end of the Christmas Day special.

TV Family

How we used to watch the TV

It was a good Christmas at the Cathedral, or I should say, a good Advent and Christmas Day because Christmas has only begun. But it was good to see so many coming along to carol services and concerts, to special events and then to all the services around Christmas Day itself.

We normally have one ‘Christmas Message’ each, the clergy at the Cathedral that is, that we preach at the Carol Services we are looking after.  In the end I had to have two – pre and post election.  So just for the record these are the two that I have been preaching.  Have a wonderful Christmas and as Stacey said to Gavin, ‘We’ve got to keep the fire burning.’

This was my first homily!

You may be a Lidl food shopper, or perhaps it’s Aldi where you go, or maybe Iceland – ‘Mum’s love Iceland’ so I’m told or you may in fact be an M&S food person, or even, Waitrose but wherever it is you go you may well have picked up from the checkout one of those Christmas catalogues they have lying around to entice you.

To be perfectly honest I like a bit of convenience.  I’ve been flicking through the catalogue from my local food shop, M&S Simply Food to see what I might order to make Christmas Day really easy and non-stressful, at least where the kitchen is concerned.


Oven ready!

They’ve got ready stuffed this, pre-cut that, perfect roast potatoes, Christmas cakes in every shape and size, puddings you don’t have to boil for three hours.  I’m almost ashamed to admit it, here in the midst of the Borough Market where I could buy all the ingredients and put these things together myself – from scratch.  But, no, I think I’ll go for convenience, again!

It was inconvenient to have a General Election called for today, ‘Just the worst time of the year’ to pinch a phrase from the poet, T S Eliot.  Lots to do, schools and church halls all booked up, so much to distract us and an election to bother about when we could be least bothered.

But a bit of inconvenience goes with Christmas.

When the message reached Nazareth that a decree had been issued that everyone had to be in their home town to be counted, it was very inconvenient if you came from Bethlehem and were living up north in Nazareth.  But there was nothing for it, pregnant wife and all had to be loaded onto a donkey and a week’s journey undertaken.  ‘Just the worst time of the year’.

It was inconvenient for the innkeeper to have a pregnant woman on his doorstep, inconvenient for shepherds having to leave their flocks by night, inconvenient for star gazers to be pulled away from gazing at ‘Just the worst time of the year’. It was inconvenient for a capricious king to be told a new king had been born just the other side of the hill, where stars were shining.

It was so inconvenient.  But God knew there was nothing else that could be done and broke into our reality in the most inconvenient way.  God came as a needy baby, God came in total vulnerability, God came as child to save his children.  It was inconvenient but there was no other way.

And the world stopped what it was doing, forgot all the distractions, and as the poet Christina Rossetti described it in one of her carols, humanity was

‘Thrilled through with awestruck love.’

Whether you’re ready for God or not, God comes to you, God comes to us, inconveniently asking us to live differently, to live better.  God comes to us inconveniently speaking of truth and justice, of peace, of hope; inconveniently holding up the poor and challenging the rich.  God comes inconveniently, even when everything seemed oven-ready!

But we have been ‘Thrilled through with awestruck love.’  We see it in the crib, we see it on the cross.  We weren’t ready, it wasn’t the time, but God comes at God’s time, in our time, bringing us hope, speaking of peace, embodying love.  God has come to bring us home, whether it’s convenient for us – or not.

This is the homily I have been preaching post-election.

I make it no secret that I love Christmas.  Scrooge and I would just not see eye to eye at all – there’s no humbug in it for me, just pure joy.  But am I just really in love with the fantasy of Christmas? For me that fantasy is a bit like the recipe for a Christmas cake, so many ingredients to create that incredible flavour.

The Christmas inside my head is about trees and carols and snow, it has elements of ‘Home Alone’, ‘White Christmas’, ‘Frozen’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, lashings of Band Aid, the Pogues with Kirsty McCall (of course), Noddy Holder, Phil Spectre, Michael Buble, its about a sprinkling of memories of selection boxes, Blue Peter annuals, the Radio Times special, waking up early on Christmas morning and wearing paper hats.  In my head and in my heart there’s such a fantasy of Christmas.


The fantasy of Christmas

But if I stop fantasising, just for a moment, I suddenly realise that most of the Christmases that I’ve enjoyed have been nothing like that.  Presents break as soon as you look at them, the turkey is tough, grandma snores in the corner, the tele is rubbish and it rains all day.  Reality impinges on my fantasy and the magic and the sparkle and the glitter and the angels seem to disappear.

The truth is that Christmas is both about our fantasies, let’s call them our dreams, and it’s also about our reality.  Christmas is about the joy of anticipation, the building up of hope, in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane.  Christmas is about arriving in a town in the dead of night and finding that the inns are full.  It’s about being given a stable instead of a warm bed in which to have your baby.  Christmas is about heaven breaking into our harsh reality.

Just as we were about to begin the countdown to Christmas, before we’d even been able to open a single door on our Advent Calendar and enjoy the chocolate hidden behind it, this community was drawn into a second terror attack.  The events on the other side of the river at Fishmongers’ Hall and then on London Bridge, the deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, the injuring of bodies, the disturbing of minds, the reopening of wounds, the stirring up of memories, made for a harsh beginning to the anticipation of Christmas.  But this was the reality in which we started to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I was at a carol service the other day and looking through the order of service beforehand realised that the choir would be singing my favourite carol.  It’s called ‘Bethlehem Down’, the words are by Bruce Blunt and the music by Peter Warlock.  They wrote it together in 1927 to finance a binge drinking session that they were planning for Christmas Eve that year. They wrote the carol, entered it into the Daily Telegraph Carol Competition for that year, won and I suppose drank the winnings!  Perhaps not a great reason for doing it.  But what they produced is deeply poignant and shockingly honest.

When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown.

In nativity plays in schools and churches across the world a doll is wrapped and laid to rest in a manger, but the child as a man will be wrapped in other cloths and laid once more to rest, in a tomb.  Jesus is born into our harsh reality because we exist in the real world, you exist in the real world and it’s to the real world that God comes, in peace, with hope. We mustn’t allow the fantasy of Christmas to obscure its reality.

But, you know, we also need a touch of the sparkle and the magic of Christmas to shine into the world, we need Disney, we need Michael Buble and a fantasy of Christmas to make us realise the truth of what is so amazing, that God is with us, that heaven touches earth as a child is born.

Feel some of the magic of Christmas now and face the reality of tomorrow when it comes, knowing that when it does come God is with us, God is with you.

Whatever your Christmas was like, whichever of these best describes it, I hope that the new year is full of blessings as we continue to encounter the Living God.

Living God,
your life gives life to the world;
live in us,
live in me,
may our lives reflect your life.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark