Preacher: The Very Reverend Frank Nelson, Dean of St Peter’s Cathedral

Thirty-seven billion dollars! I was staggered when I heard that figure given the other day – the amount of retail spending in Australia over the past 30 days. Surely not?! But no, the figure was repeated several times. What price Christmas? The gifts, the holidays, the food and drink! That’s an awful lot of money for a relatively small country to spend in the retail sector in a month. Does it bring the peace and goodwill, the love and joy, we are hearing so much about at this time? Can money really buy that?

And what about the ‘other’ narrative – the one we read and sing about in this Cathedral and in churches throughout the world? That’s not about money – even if we count the gifts the wise men are said to have brought. That narrative is about a young girl who said “Yes” to God; about a man who, despite the scandal of his betrothed being pregnant, nonetheless married her; about an elderly couple, childless, promised a son who would be the fore-runner of someone greater than him. This narrative is about a long and difficult journey; a desperate search for accommodation and somewhere to have a baby, the offer of a stable to share with the animals; it’s about an angel with a message, a number of messages to give, before being joined by the heavenly host; it’s about shepherds watching over their flocks in the cold of a winter’s night, among the least important in society and not to be trusted – certainly not with a message as important as the one they were given; it’s about travellers from the East, reading the heavens and setting out on a long journey that would take them to strange places, meeting with a very surprised King Herod and then following the star to a small village outside the main city. It’s a narrative that has its roots in the depths of history, in the prophecies of ancient times – looking forward to a new leader, an inspirational leader, one with all the best qualities of the greatest leaders of the past – and then some: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is 9: 6)

This ‘other’ narrative, if we follow St John and the opening words of today’s Gospel, takes us back into the very beginning – there was “the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(John1:1). This narrative talks about Light, with a capital ‘L’ – light that came into the world, shone in the darkness and did not get put out by the darkness. This narrative reminds us that John the Baptist pointed the way to the Light – even though most people did not recognise the Light. This narrative makes the extraordinary claim that the Light, which is also the Word, which is God, surprisingly and intentionally became human, “became flesh” is the expression used in the Gospel, and lived among us.

It is an extraordinary story by anyone’s telling, one that costs nothing, and costs everything. It’s a story of love that risks all to gain all. It’s a story that has inspired and continues to inspire, that intrigues the greatest minds and enfolds the youngest child. It’s a story that we celebrate today – Christmas Day – in song and worship, with family and friends, with tears and joy. It’s a story that begins and ends with a single human being, a tiny baby, a mangled corpse on a cross. It’s a story that touches the hardest of hearts, and brings joy in the deepest of suffering. It’s a story that makes no sense, and a story that makes every sense. It’s a story that invites you and me into its embrace.

It’s quite a story.

This Christmas story is one that has inspired writers and composers, word and note-smiths, to use their craft to tell it. We’ve heard some of the Scriptures; we’ve sung some of the hymns. Now it needs to be taken out of St Peter’s Cathedral – into our lives, our cities, our countries and world. It needs to influence the decision makers, the money keepers, the peace makers. It begins with a single baby, a carpenter husband, and a willing mother. It spreads when you and I, those who are here today, and those who are celebrating the story throughout the world on this day, begin to live in the Light, and allow the light to shine into the darkness – our individual darkness and the darkness that engulfs so many people in the world. The Light shines on all – you and me, the homeless and the cosseted, the refugee and asylum seeker, as well as the international banker, peace-keeper, or ‘spend-up shopper’.

We could say that this Light with a capital ‘L’ is also Love with a capital ‘L’: love that cannot be bought, not even for thirty-seven billion dollars. This Love demands a response from us, as Irish poet Thomas Parnell put it

Let those love now, who never

   loved before;

Let those who always loved

   now love the more.

A blessed, light, love and peace-filled Christmas to you all!