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May the force be with you...!

Bishop Helen-Ann's last Christmas sermon

Christmas 2017


John 1.1-14


The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead of you’, words from the rather quirky ancient inn owner Maz Kanata from the 2015 Star Wars film The Force Awakens).  From one inn in a galaxy far far away, to another inn with no room in the Roman Empire far far away.  No room in the inn?  Perhaps room enough in our hearts to encounter this wondrous story once more?

Another year, another Christmas, another Star Wars film, The Last Jedi; and a last sermon from me as Bishop of Waikato in this pulpit.

(Produce lightsaber)....

(If you want to remember anything from this sermon, you could say: ‘well, the bishop produced a lightsaber in the pulpit’!)

So it was on Tuesday this week while in Wellington, Myles and I attended a special screening of The Last Jedi

We had been invited by a friend whose church had hired a screen in the iconic Embassy Theatre to show the film as a fundraiser (what a great idea?!).  I’m not used to being at the cinema where a Vicar gets up to welcome everyone before the start of the film (The Force be with you! And also with you), quickly followed by ‘we have a bishop in the house’ (The Force is strong with us this evening, no pressure!). 

We watched the film, were suitably wowed by the special effects, laughed at the clever jokes, said awwww at the unbearably cute penguin-like Porg creatures who seemingly turn Chewbacca of all creatures into a vegetarian, and gasped at the plot’s twists and turns.  I was reminded at how easy it is to be completely wrapped up in a narrative, to be carried along by a story, to wonder and marvel at the what ifs, and the what happens next...and yet we need to to ask, if our lives are defined by stories what will our narrative be?

‘The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead of you’

We are creatures of habit.  We like to review what has gone behind us, to process events, and try to make sense of them.  While this is helpful, the story that we encounter tonight, the birth of Jesus Christ is one that invites us to less to look back and more to look forward with courage and hope. 

‘The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead of you’

The incarnation, the word becoming flesh that John tells us about in our Gospel reading; Emmanuel: God with us, represents a new season, a dramatic breaking-in by a God who chooses to indwell our humanity in flesh and bone.  Again and again, through this narrative, as the years roll by, we have an opportunity not simply to begin again, but to see the world as God would see it: in the eyes of a child, who grew, who suffered and died, and who Christians believe with absolute confidence, rose again.  What we should not do with the Christmas story is leave Jesus perpetually as a baby. 

That was the starting point, and the indication that God dwelt as one of us in order to experience the fulness of humanity, not just a part of it, but everything, warts and all.

That’s not an easy story to take in let alone consider credible in a society that seems largely indifferent to its message.  By and large mainstream media doesn’t have a lot of time for the Christmas story.  But what about us?  Do we look back at all the chaos of our lives, and get stuck?  What happens if we take a step forward in to the unknown?  Then what?

Well think about a time when you’ve tried something new, something perhaps that took you outside of your comfort zone?  What was it?  What did you learn?  Would you do it again?  Would you try something new?  The interesting thing is that as we will say shortly n our Creed, we believe Christ will come again...God would come into our midst again, be one of us again.  There is always hope.  We are never ever beyond the reach of the love of God, and that is good news. 

Maybe that is the only good news that we need to hear – that none of us is beyond the love of God, and that the more we pull away from God, the more God wills us into relationship with him.

Towards the end of The Last Jedi (and although this isn’t a plot spoiler, if you’re a committed Star Wars fan who hasn’t yet seen the film you may want to plug your ears now), in the face of what looks a bit like failure, heroine Rey says to General Leia Organa, ‘how do you build a rebellion from this?’ to which the reply comes: ‘we have enough...’.

On the face of it, a birth into the poverty and inequality of an Empire far far away isn’t much to start the rebellion against the powers of Empire that became the Kingdom of God: a bold assertion that relentless greed and injustice would not prevail against a message of transformation, renewal and hope.  But it was enough; more than enough.  Despite appearances, Christianity has survived 2000 years of naysayers and continues to preach that love trumps hate. 

Certainly there have been times when Christians have fallen way short of the mark, but on balance, all that lies between us is the power of God to change the way we think about ourselves and our relationships to the world around us.  That I choose to see the world around me through the lens of faith is to say ‘yes’ to a truth revealed in history and still revealing itself today, tomorrow and the day after that.  You can reject this narrative because of course we can, but know this, that the story and the love of God will never reject you, and will never let you go.

‘This is how we win.  Not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love,’ says the brave resistance fighter Rose Tico after she saves the character Finn.

For God so loved the world, the Gospel writer John tells us a little later in his narrative, that he gave his only son Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have life eternal...

Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this night, calls us to follow him so that by his light we might give light to the world. 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

The belonging we seek is ahead of us, so as we go forth from this place may we have the courage to think differently about the steps in life we take; and may we journey in that path of discipleship, of love, grace and mercy...may the force be with you.

Happy Christmas!


+Helen-Ann Waikato


Story Published: 25th of December - 2017

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