Bishop of Doncaster leads Midnight Mass

27th December 2014

(From John 1:1-14)

“Sam and Monty are the best of friends. Sam thinks he knows just what Monty’s dreaming of for Christmas. Something that’ll make one little penguin’s Christmas Day”. Based on the book “Monty’s Christmas” it shows that the best gift comes from the heart. What Monty is looking for is love. Do you recognise the story? It is, in case you hadn’t guessed, the story that lies behind the John Lewis Christmas advert. I don’t know how they do it but Lewis’s seem to come up with an imaginative and memorable advert every year, an advert that makes you think just a little differently And they usually have a catchy song to go with it and this year is no exception. In fact the words really underpin the meaning of the story. Sung by Tom Odell and originally written by John Lennon, the song “Real” says this:

“All my little plans and schemes, lost like some forgotten dreams, seems that all I really was doing was waiting for you. Just like little girls and boys playing with their little toys. Seems like all they were really doing was waiting for love. Chorus, don’t need to be alone, it’s real love, its real love”

The advert is obviously designed to encourage us to spend our money in John Lewis and it raises all sorts of questions about the commercialism of Christmas and the danger of people running into serious debt which I’ve spoken about on other occasions and recently in the Doncaster Star, so I won’t repeat it this evening. But whilst aimed at a target audience for commercial reasons, one can’t deny that the advert and the words of the song - which is on sale to support the charity World Wildlife Fund - tug a little at the heart and have a powerful undertone. At the end of the day who doesn’t want to be loved – real love -the love of a family or close friends.

That also reminds me of a programme I heard a few weeks back on the radio where an ex-army officer who’d been serving in Bosnia had made it his life time’s work, following military service, to set up orphanages in Bosnia and Romania. But of late he’d reversed that policy and was trying to get children into families and close down the orphanages. But the most powerful bit of the story was when they asked a young person what belonging to a family meant. His answer was powerful in its simplicity - LOVE he said.

Love is a very powerful emotion and a basic need. Deprived of love we fall into all sorts of emotional states. But some people use the word love to control and coerce others, it can be used as a destructive and negative force as we so often witness in cases of abuse, the use of power and control of the strong over the weak and vulnerable. Love is talked about too glibly and some seem to fall in and out of it on a regular basis, even though it inevitably means someone gets emotionally and even spiritually hurt. Paloma Faith sung in one of her recent songs that “Only Love can hurt like this”. It indicates the depth and passion by which love is felt and experienced.

At its very best love is something that binds you with another person in a deeply committed and giving relationship which survives all things. It’s an emotion that’s felt at the very deepest level or our being, almost indescribable. St Paul has a good go in his letter to the Corinthians. “Love” he says “is patient and kind, love isn’t envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way, it isn’t irritable or resentful, it doesn’t rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends”. “And now” Paul says, “faith, hope and love abide, these three and the greatest of these is love”. This evening all of us are being invited into the most powerful and greatest love story ever told an everlasting love – as the song says – a Real love that will not end.

This love story is what Christmas is about. The story of Christmas reminds us that God loves us so much he sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world. The word of God, John tells us, became flesh and dwelt amongst us. In Christ God has healed the great divide between us and him; it’s a great affirmation of our real worth and value, an expression of love, he identifies with us especially in our weakness and suffering. It was a self-humbling and deeply loving act of God which is irreversible. God is eternally with us in love. It’s what C.S Lewis calls “The Grand Miracle”. And the other part of this great love story is that he wants to share it with us, he invites us into a relationship. God’s love never changes and it doesn’t fade in and out on a whim or fancy. It doesn’t matter who we are, we’re all loved creatures of God and he longs for each of us to join in this relationship with him.

There’ll be many people around the world who today and every day aren’t just alone, but deeply lonely and who feel unloved and unwanted. There’ll be people today asleep on our streets or in hostels who feel unloved and unwanted, there are others who will be vulnerable and afraid. Over the past week we’ve witnessed, yet again, horrific scenes of death through acts of terrorism and murder and senseless violence. Wars and political unrest continue to rage in different parts of the world and numerous people live in constant fear and anxiety. Many are left wondering what sort of real love still exists in the world. The only answer is the genuine love of God shown to us in the person of Jesus Christ who gave his all for us and our sinful world, a world that continues to reject him, and yet he still invites us into a depth and
passion of love that can change our world forever.

I hope that all of us here this evening will have a fantastic Christmas shared in love with family and friends, but as we do let’s just pause for a moment to think of those who aren’t experiencing REAL love of someone or of God. When we experience the love of God in our lives, it may not make the circumstances very different but we’ll know in our hearts that we’ll never be alone, our lives will be transformed as we’re caught up in his saving love and passion but also the love experienced by longing to the family of God, the community of faith. Even, if like those orphans I spoke about at the beginning, you don’t have immediate family you’ll always find a place in the family of God. Christmas shows us that God is deeply committed to us in love, a love that’s so great that he gave us his Son Jesus Christ who ultimately died so that we might be saved. There is no love gift greater than this, only God can save us and that’s the best Christmas present any of us can have and which I so strongly desire for you and everyone.  Happy Christmas.

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