Quite by chance I came across the homily that I gave at a Rotary club carol service in 2017. Here it is.
Most people don’t expect a sermon at a carol service. But since a good many of you find yourselves in church only once a year, I shan’t resist the urge to provoke you.
I hear it said that English society is losing the plot, that it’s obsessed with individualism. People think their rights as individuals trump their duties as members of society. I hear it said that the church has contributed by having failed to proclaim its message clearly, that it has colluded with the forces of secularism.
If you think this, and deplore the way in which the Church has retreated from society to become an inward-looking sect, then I say this to you: stop moaning and start going to church. Change the church from the inside.
“Ah but”, I hear you say. You say “church is only for old women and children”. “Church these days is sentimental claptrap of flowers and pet services and vicars obsessed with chocolate and coffee”. “Church is about middle class complacency” you say. “Church patronizes me with doggerel hymns, playschool prayers and infantile sermons”. “Church doesn’t connect with the joys and sorrows of ordinary people” (I suppose members of Rotary Clubs can be regarded as ordinary people. Perhaps.)
Certainly, when I look at celebrity vicars today, I can understand why people think like that.
So let me correct you about Christianity.
It’s not about chocolate. It’s not about vomit-inducing Jesus-is-my-best-friend talks. It’s not about worshipping texts written by people who thought the earth was flat. It’s not about believing fairy stories. It’s not about asking a sky pixie to sort out your problems because you’re too lazy to take responsibility for yourself.
I think Christianity is really quite simple:
- Every one of us has the divine light within, a bit of the Divine, like a pilot light on a gas stove. The inner Christ.
- All we need to do is let that inner pilot light grow to fill us from the inside. That’s what Christmas is about. As Mary let the infant grow in her belly, so can we let him grow in ours, for we are all Mary. We don’t need to do anything—the Christ-child within is already there; we just need to let it happen—or rather, we just stop resisting. As we have already sung: O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today.
- As the Christ-flame grows within us it brings to light our egotistical desires and all the vain things that charm us most, then consumes them, often very painfully. That’s the crucifixion.
- With all the inner rubbish now burnt up, we are resurrected; we ascend to the heights like a hot air balloon now unburdened by ballast. Our inner flame lights the way for others and consumes their burdens. Light as illumination, light as wisdom, light as less heavy.
And this with Jesus as the prototype, the model, the example, divine humanity, the Word. Never mind the theology—a fair bit of it in the western church is pernicious hogwash.
Christianity is about putting other people on the same pedestal that you’re on yourself. Christianity is about recognizing that we’re all in this together—every living creature, not just humans. Christianity is about giving away your self, because only then will you find yourself. And at this time of year it’s about remembering the importance of being child-like. Not childish: selfish, egotistical, me-me-me, but child-like: trusting, exploring, fun-loving, risk-taking.
I leave you with this question: would the child you once were be proud of the adult you have become? If not, use this Christmas, this festival of childlikeness, to do something about it.