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Christmas Day 2023

Christmas tree at Dorchester Abbey. Photo: Emma Thompson

Sermons and messages from our four bishops


The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft – Bishop of Oxford

Christmas can be a busy and demanding time. Find a moment each day to be quiet and still. Sit comfortably and still your mind and heart. If you can, have a picture of the nativity or a crib scene in your hand. Pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly and carefully reflecting on each line:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name

Jesus, the Son of God, invites us to call God our Father. Jesus is our brother. Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth has become a child to live among us.

Draw near to me Lord in your love this day.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven

The child in the manger is God’s chosen and anointed king, the Christ.

His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom of justice and peace. His reign has begun but is not yet fulfilled. Christ will return to make all things new.

Bring peace and justice to this world, Lord we pray

Give us this day our daily bread

Jesus is the bread of life. In him all of our hungers are satisfied.

In this season we take time to thank God for the good gifts we have been given each day. We set our hearts against greed.

We pray Lord for all those who lack food, shelter and warmth this Christmas and those who help them, here and across the world.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

Mary’s son will grow to live a life without sin. Jesus will offer his life on the cross so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God and to others. God will raise him from death.

Help us, Lord, to seek and to offer forgiveness in every part of our lives

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

From his birth to his passion and death, Jesus knew sorrow, hardship and trials of every kind and is able to strengthen us in whatever we are facing.

Lord send your grace and help this day to all those passing through testing, temptation or hardship.

For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory

For ever and ever. Amen.

Here in the Christ child is a glory and a power greater than any ever seen on earth: the power of love and humility and holiness combine.

May we live this day, Lord, to your glory. Amen.


The Rt Revd Olivia Graham – Bishop of Reading

Given at the BBC Berkshire Carol service, 8am Christmas Eve, 1pm Christmas Day: BBC Radio Berkshire - BBC Radio Berkshire Carol Service, Recorded at Reading Minster Church (24/12/2023)

A young Jewish family, living under Roman occupation, forced to travel to be counted in a town far from home. She was very young, 15 maybe, and 9 months pregnant. The birth took place, we are told, in a cattle shed. Soon afterwards they were forced to flee as refugees because of the persecution of a crazy puppet ruler.

We sometimes see pictures of this journey on Christmas cards: Mary on a donkey holding the tiny, precious child, Joseph walking with his staff; walking towards safety. Travelling by dangerous roads; to a foreign country to seek safety. Travelling to a place they have never been, where the language and the customs are unfamiliar. Behind them is cruelty and death. Ahead of them is uncertainty. Even though they are afraid, they are confident in God’s provision, and they bring with them the hope of the entire world, Jesus.

We wonder at this. Surely, Almighty God, the maker of all that is, would have organised things a bit better. Surely, he would have provided at least a safe and comfortable place for his Son to be born and live his tender early years. Surely this story we are so familiar with suggests a God who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. If his aim is to sort out human society and bring a reign of peace, this doesn’t sound like the cleverest way of going about it. Instead God is found in a tiny vulnerable baby, born in unhygienic conditions where so much could have gone wrong, found travelling this road through Gaza to Egypt, unguarded, in dirt and danger, protected only by the love of human parents.

But this is the way of love. His name is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Not above us, or outside of us, or beyond us. Not a puppet master, directing the moves of human beings so as to create something perfect and orderly. But love, free and undefended, weaving a silent path through the suffering of the earth, finding paths of hope and peace in the midst of deep conflict and despair.

The birth of Jesus is part of a huge, cosmic story which starts with a Creator, and encompasses all that was created. The Creator, whose name is love, longs to be in relationship with this creation, all of us, all that lives, plant, animal, human. And so love came down. Love which is patient, kind, undefended, vulnerable, born in social scandal, poverty, homelessness, persecution. But recognised by the shepherds – those who were poorest and most despised; recognised by foreigners, outsiders and helped by the kindness of ordinary people.

What does this mean for us today, in the midst of the lights and the feasting and the families?

We must hope that it makes us aware, as we celebrate and enjoy Christmas, of the suffering of so many around us. The terrible suffering of Israelis whose loved ones were horribly killed and maimed on 7 October, or taken hostage. The hundreds of thousands in present day Gaza whose lives have been changed forever by merciless bombardment of their homes, ground attacks, and thousands of men, women and children dead – these are on our minds. The decades old conflict in the Holy Land, intractable and merciless, which has no military solution. We must hope, and we must pray for a political settlement, a lasting peace.

It is not lost on us that Jesus Christ, who is called the Prince of Peace was born a Jew into this land, walked these roads, fled through Gaza into Egypt, lived under occupation, knew oppression and the suffering of his people.

The recalling of this two thousand-year-old story helps us to find a perspective on the troubles of our world: to weep and lament, yes, but not to be paralysed into inaction or become numb to the suffering.

Hearing this story helps us to be aware of those we know, in our communities, who are finding life overwhelming: through poverty, homelessness, ill health, stress, lack of security – all who are in difficulty, both friends and strangers. And to stretch out the hand of friendship to those who have come to us seeking refuge from war and oppression in their home countries. Those who are trying, in the midst of their grief and trauma, to regather the broken fragments of their lives and rebuild.

This is the season to be aware; to reach out with love; to build bonds of friendship; to welcome refugees and strangers; to share our good fortune with those who have none. And to pray for peace on Earth.

Love, free and undefended, weaving a silent path through the suffering of the earth, finding paths of hope and peace in the midst of deep conflict and troubled lives.

It may look weak, but it is the most powerful force in the universe. Love came down. That is the meaning of Christmas. God come to be one of us, a part of us, taking on our experience as human beings, and later, as a young man, dying so that the bond between us and God might be forged stronger than steel, and never break. That is the best reason for us to say Happy Christmas. Amen.


The Rt Revd Gavin Collins – Bishop of Dorchester

Given at the BBC Oxford Carol service, 8am Christmas Eve, 10am Christmas Day: BBC Radio Oxford - BBC Radio Oxford Special, Christmas Carol Service

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.”

This has always been one of my favourite Christmas carols, and yet I find that this Christmas it is almost too painful and too poignant to sing it: With the awful scenes we are seeing daily on the news of the danger, fighting and destruction in Palestine and Israel, it seems wrong to sing of quiet and peace in that famous ‘little town’. Bethlehem lies in the West Bank, the Palestinian territories which, while not part of Gaza where most of the fighting is taking place, are marked by daily violence, protests and shootings. Wherever our sympathies may lie in the current war, it is clear that there have been outrages perpetrated by both sides: the deadly, criminal terrorist attacks by Hamas on 7 October and the ruthless and relentless retaliation and bombardments by Israel in response.

At this Christmas season, how should we – how can we – respond to such violence, destruction and death?

Although it may be almost too painful to sing this wonderful carol this particular Christmas, I think its lyrics still contain much of the answer: It very realistically speaks of ‘darkness’, ‘fears’ and ‘sin’ – each of which we see so clearly in Bethlehem, Israel and Palestine this Christmas. But it also speaks of the light that shines in that darkness – of God stepping down as ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God with us’, and of his coming to us not just as a light, but as an ‘everlasting light’, a light that can meet all of our fears, and also meet all of our hopes, as we remember and celebrate the miracle, that in that stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, God stepped down into the hopelessness and pain and suffering of our world to lift us up with the ‘wondrous gift’ of new life, new hope and new joy.

And so, whatever darkness may surround us this Christmas-time – whether that’s the pain of seeing the awful scenes taking place in Israel and Gaza, or whether it’s darkness closer to home: the fears, worries, disappointments and pains in our lives and our relationships: This Christmas, I invite you to come to the stable and see the baby who was born to be the Saviour and the light of the world. We are going to sing “O little town of Bethlehem” later on in this service, and as we sing it, may we hear and respond afresh tonight to the promise and the hope of the wonderful final verse with which the carol ends:

“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray:

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell:

O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”

May God bless you, and all those you love, this Christmas-time.


The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson – Bishop of Buckingham

Ministers have their own version of Santa’s grotto — we get unusual religious-themed presents all year, not just at Christmas.

After many years of ministry I have many inspirational things, even a few holy ones. I have a mantelpiece full of exotic memorials of visits, musical instruments and elephants and garlands from Indian schools.

I even have a lucky horseshoe. A lady called Betty gave it to me 43 years ago when I was ordained priest — it’s unusual, even dodgy from a strictly churchy point of view, but the gift was heartfelt and kind. It’s not the object I treasure, but memories of Betty and her daughter Sarah, one of the first friends I had with a motorised wheelchair.

In 1937 another bishop contemplating retirement after a long ministry said some words I increasingly could make my own:

“Faces look out at me from the past — toil-worn faces radiant with love and confidence. Nothing of what people foolishly call success is worth comparison with the experience which those faces recall. I say to you then — love God and love your people. Count nothing excessive which you can do for them. Serve them in your office for the love of Christ, and they will surely give you back more than you can give them.”

A few days ago we were getting Christmas stuff out when I stumbled across a present from years ago. It joined our little museum of holy things about 20 years ago I think.

It’s a white china tea lamp holder with the whole Christmas story on it. It’s about four inches square, shaped like a stable, with various characters carved on the walls — sheep, a sheepdog, cattle, two shepherds, three wise men, even a camel. But hang on, where are Jesus, Mary or Joseph?

I looked on the base. “Made in China” it said. A few years ago an urban myth did the rounds about a Chinese cross, but with Santa, not Jesus on it. As Americans say, ‘close, but no cigar’. I can usually find Wally, but where’s Jesus on my Chinese tea light nativity? What’s left of the Christmas story without Jesus, Mary or Joseph?

Perhaps Jesus is at the heart of the whole thing. He’s the Light of the World, maybe he’s the tea light? Geddit?

I suppose so. Well, I do get it, but I’m not sure I like it. Jesus isn’t an idea — he’s a person, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. At Christmas Jesus came, fully one of us, the human face of God. St John says the Word was, literally, made flesh — so why turn him back into Christmas. It is about God’s love, light and wisdom taking our flesh. Jesus is not only for Christmas. It’s for life. It’s not a beautiful idea, it’s the real thing, faith, hope and love made flesh, no ifs ands or buts, no excuses.

One traditional prayer talks about God’s great design of love dawning on the waste of our wraths and sorrows. That’s what we need more than ever this Christmas, in Israel and Gaza, O God make it stop, and on the streets of Kharkiv, and over the world’s refugee camps and government offices and hospitals and prisons. On our streets, in our homes and in our hearts we need the light of the world, but above all we need God’s love for real, in the flesh — over our wraths and sorrows the Prince of Peace, peace in our world, peace in our homes peace in our hearts. Happy Christmas!


Advent and New Year messages

Our bishops have been leading and speaking at church and carol services across the diocese during this year’s Advent and Christmas period. You can listen to Bishop Olivia on BBC Radio Berkshire and Bishop Alan speaking to BBC Three Counties Radio reflecting on the past year and the meaning of Christmas, available on our SoundCloud on Christmas morning.

A New Year’s Day message from the Bishop of Oxford will be aired on BBC Radio Oxford on Sunday 1 January. Tune in on SoundCloud on New Year’s Day to listen.

Page last updated: Friday 22nd December 2023 3:24 PM
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