Christmas sermon from the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham

‘Becoming a mother can be as lonely an experience as bereavement or divorce’ so claims a new report published ten days ago by the Red Cross with the Co-op. It challenges the view that feelings of isolation afflict only the elderly, claiming that half of the population say they experience loneliness regularly. Tomorrow 4million people will spend Christmas Day on their own. But you can be surrounded by plenty of people and yet still feel terribly alone.

According to the report the six chief triggers are: becoming a new mother, especially at a young age; ‘empty nest’ syndrome, retirement, long-term health or mobility issues, bereavement and family breakdown. That probably has most of us covered in some way or other. 

At the centre of the Christmas story is a new mother at a young age, far from home at a time of political upheaval. Yet she was holding on resolutely to the promise of God. The child she cradled was God’s powerful response to our world’s greatest need: loneliness in all its forms and most destructive effects. 

But I don’t think you should let me get away with what could sound like an easy religious platitude on Christmas Eve. What real difference can the child in the manger make to our swirling lives and raging world this Christmas?

The mission of Jesus in coming into our world was all to do with reconciling and reconnecting us – holding out to us the most extraordinary gift: the possibility of having an unimaginably close relationship with the God of all creation.  

John in the prologue to his Gospel writes, “…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

So how does God address our world’s greatest need? He makes a way for anyone to become a true child of God. Many people believe that God could only be interested in them if they make ourselves more appealing to him, by becoming a better person or in some way more religious.

But entering into a relationship with God is not like managing your profile on Facebook or Twitter. That sort of pressure is the source of a vast amount of hidden anxiety in our modern world. 

It was reported in the news this week that research by the University of Pittsburgh has proven that using multiple social-media platforms will put you at increased risk of depression or anxiety. And the more platforms you use the greater the pressure. 

Nicole Amesbury, head of clinical development at on-line therapy company Talkspace explained, “People compare themselves to the posts they see, and then feel inadequate.” She said there’s even something biological going on: 

“Each time someone opens [a social media app] and sees a positive response, they get a small amount of dopamine released in the brain…But then when someone doesn’t get enough ‘likes’ or dopamine hits, they feel the loss.”

So let’s make sure we ‘like’ every post we can this Christmas and reduce the levels of anxiety across the nation. Between us we should be able to make an impact.

But the good news of this Holy Night is that the child in the manger will become our Saviour on the cross and in that place of ultimate loneliness it’s as if God transfers all his ‘Likes’ from Jesus onto us. We are forgiven and dearly loved.

Imagine returning to your Facebook or Twitter and finding someone outrageously famous has decided to become a follower or friend or Instagram buddy. Through the cross Jesus does infinitely more than this for us.

It’s why in his first letter later in the NT John writes again with such passion: ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’

So how does this new relationship with God come about? Well, it’s not made difficult for us, John says it is profoundly simple: ‘To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.’

We receive this gift through believing, it is by faith, trusting all that we are to Jesus. Over the past year I have spoken to and confirmed over 500 people across the county who have made just this step of faith into a relationship with God. 

When people are reconciled and reconnected in a personal way to God, it begins to transform all other relationships. Gradually every connection, with closest friend, remotest stranger and biggest enemy can take on a different quality. Because we no longer have to prove ourselves or win affection or hold on to it. In knowing that we are forgiven by God and dearly loved by him we have the inner confidence to love and be loved without either overlooking the mess or requiring perfection.  

This Christmas there is a gift to receive (to say ‘yes’ to) and there is a gift to share. The apostle Paul wrote to Titus about ‘the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appearing’ in Christ Jesus. Our world needs desperately to see the strength of this kindness in action as we reflect the character of the One who has adopted us into his family. 

Whatever personal challenges we face this Christmas and no matter what uncertainties await our world in the year to come in Christ we are never alone – we can live each moment of every day in his presence and be a means of reconciling others in a broken world, until one day we will see Jesus face to face. Amen. 

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