Christmas Sermon preached by Dr Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork

Christmas Day Sermon, 2016

Preached by the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton,

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

in the Cathedral Church of Saint Fin Barre, Cork

The Christmas story is neither a nativity play nor a fairy tale.  It is rooted in history.  Saint Luke, the doctor and historian, was keen to make that point.   He tells us, as we heard in today’s Gospel, that it all happened ‘when Quirinius was governor of Syria …’, when a census was ordered by Caesar Augustus,  and ‘they went up’ from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Now, we know that he may have got his historical bearings a bit askew, but the point is this;  it all happened in a time and place, at a particular moment in history.  Christmases have been celebrated in the years since, in time and place, against the backdrop of a particular unfolding history: our story, in our time.

Matthew – the only other Gospel writer who tells the story of the birth of Jesus locates it all this way – like a well-researched family history, something gleaned methodically just like in the TV series ‘Who do you think you are?’ – he sets out the long line of ancestors of the baby who is now lying in the manger.

Two different writers, inspired by events and their experiences of their time and place, relying on different reports and sources, nearly all word of mouth, and it should not surprise us that there are differences and emphases, some inconsistencies even.  In this centenary year of 1916 – commemorating the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme – only 100 years on – we have been flooded with differents accounts, varieties of interpretations and the story is often retold deliberately to make a particular point in a certain way.

The Gospel accounts of the nativity are little different and we miss the point of the way the story of the birth of Jesus is told if we think it’s all about telling us what happened back then.  No, the point is this, these stories were told and recorded, not to give us a ‘what happened sequence’, ‘a blow by blow account of the birth’, but rather to answer the question ‘who is this Jesus born in Bethlehem?’   The whole point of the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels is not to tell us what precisely happened, but to tell us who Jesus is. And that’s good, because only that is what will actually help us here on this Christmas today.  

The Gospels were written for early, fledgling Christian communities, in particular times and places, facing certain challenges, and they set out to enlighten them about the Jesus whose life and teachings, death and resurrection inspired and transformed them.  These birth accounts confirmed them and strengthened them in their faith. They do the same for us today.  

And boy do we need it!  Again and again, year after year; and as the years pass we pray again this Christmas as in Christmases past, the Sixth Century collect: ‘Almighty God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your son Jesus Christ …’

Every Christmas is indeed a time of remembrance.  The whole of 2016 has been a year of remembrance.  1916 – commemorating events at home and on the world stage 100 years ago have shaped our past year. 1916 was a year when Irish people were coming to terms with the aftermath of the Easter Rising and with a continuing world war.    This Christmas, one hundred years ago tomorrow, John Nason, son of a local doctor, would die in action at the Somme.  Two days time in 1916, Richard Nugent, son of the schoolmaster in Kilmalooda in this Diocese, would be killed in action; their names are on ‘The Heroes Column.’  That was Christmas for those families that year.

A year of retrospect such as we have had gives us food for thought.  History and hindsight teach us valuable lessons.  We reflect on what we have become and we ask ourselves ‘what are we becoming?’  More challenging still ‘what do we risk becoming if we do not draw on the lessons of history? Is the tragedy, mayhem, chaos and hatred of previous generations to be futile, if we learn nothing from it today? How are we to work together today, and what is to guide us, as we try to shape our tomorrow?

We live in a society that faces many challenges that call for our resolve, commitment and partnership with other agencies and people in society; I think, at home, for example of poverty, homelessness, housing, mental health issues, and enduring economic concerns.

On a broader stage, BREXIT (and the consequent anxiety about how things will unfold within Europe in general and for Ireland, in particular), political stability within Europe, migration, human catastrophe, terrorist attacks, and wars, especially in the Middle East, weigh on many minds.  The Middle East is somewhere we cannot disown;  it is the  geographical, cultural and social cradle of our Christian faith. In any case, nowhere in our small, intimately connected world can mean nothing to us; we do not have the luxury of putting any place out of mind; far off events shape everything: Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Tunisia and Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, China, Russia, the USA … these are our neighbours, more than ever.  

While populist politics do throw down some gauntlets to challenge much that needs to be disturbed and unsettled in contemporary established systems, such an approach also risks peddling a seductive and misleading view that there are simplistic answers to life’s complicated questions. There are not.  So-called post-truth politics which sideline facts and rational argument contribute nothing positive or creative to our future.   The vitriol and venom that is emerging once more in public discourse is one of the most disturbing aspects of all.   This fosters and cultivates division, and feeds the phobias  – such as xenophobia and islamophobia – on which injustice and violence, will ultimately be perpetrated.   Our shared future as humanity, can only be secured by inclusion, building bridges, embracing diversity and reaching out across differences to understand and to reconcile; building walls will do nothing.

We look around as we seem to be witnessing, yet again in human history,  a fragmenting international order, as well as political upheaval in Europe in the wake, not only of Brexit, as I say, but votes already in Italy and Austria, and soon to come elsewhere, notably in France, the Netherlands and Germany.  We see in some places a renewed shift towards nationalism.  There is no room for complacency; and the worrying fact is that, again and again, history does risk repeating itself.

It is against this multi-faceted and challenging background that we celebrate Christmas this year.  

But then, Christmas has always been celebrated against the background of a particular time and place, a moment in history, and the message remains the same and endures. And this is where the true purpose of the Christmas gospel matters to us. A seasonal story – lovely as it is – is no help. What that story means, and who this Jesus is, potentially changes and transforms everything.  

It was a photograph in the current edition of New Statesman magazine, that drove this point home for me.  The photograph (taken by Lieutenant Ernest Brooks) shows a shell hole near the village of Beaumont-Hamel – at the north end of the attack lines at the Battle of the Somme – a photograph taken one hundred years ago today (when, supposedly, that battle had ended, but it hadn’t, as we know).  Christmas Day, 1916 – a shell hole  on a battlefield.  A group of men with helmets on are sitting in that hell hole with a makeshift table and they are sharing Christmas dinner – celebrating the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It has, almost, a Last Supper, quality about it.  Right beside them in that shell hole is a comrade’s grave – marked by a cross; Christmas alongside the crucifixion of Good Friday and Easter resurrection all in one unexpected place – the gospel summed up in one time and place.   

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Christmas Day, 1916 near Beaumont-Hamel, France (Photograph in the collection of the Imperial War Museum)

One hundred years on from those ghastly wartime events we hear again the Christmas message of light and hope in our own particular time, place and situations.   There is no where – no shell hole or hell hole – where the love of God cannot reach. There is no darkness too dark;  for he, as St John tells us,  is the light who ‘shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’

Who is this baby, and what does he mean for us in our time and through the ages?   He is Jesus, Saviour, Messiah and Lord. He is ‘the Christ.’ He is son of man, and son of God.  He is Lord, Redeemer, the Way, Truth and Life; the light of the world; the star of Bethlehem, and Prince of Peace.  The message of the angels announcing the good news was ‘Do not be afraid’. When the baby was born they named him ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God is with us.’

And so, on this Christmas morning, in this yearly festival of remembrance, like the shepherds at that first Christmas, we too come here to  ‘…see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us …’ Here, once more, we also find ‘ … Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.’ We approach this sanctuary, this communion rail, as they, of old, approached the stable at Bethlehem.  We kneel at this place of his presence, the sacrament of the Word made flesh, God among us today, giving himself to us.  In the words of our Christmas carol:

Saints, before the altar bending,

Watching long in hope and fear,

Suddenly the Lord, descending,

In his temple shall appear.  

And we too sing Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Here we receive and discover anew the promise that God is with us, that we have seen his glory, ‘the glory as of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’

Posted in Bishop, Christmas, Diocese, Sermons

Joint Christmas Message of the Bishops of Cork: Dr John Buckley and Dr Paul Colton

Joint Christmas Message from the Bishops of Cork:

The Most Reverend Dr John Buckley and

the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton

The Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton (left) and the Most Reverend Dr John Buckley.

The Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton (left) and the Most Reverend Dr John Buckley.

Christmas 2016

As Bishops of Cork, we join in wishing you all a peaceful Christmas. We pray that God will bless you, not only during this Christmas festival, but also throughout 2017.

This year, 2016, has been a year of centenary commemoration for our country as well as of wider world events one hundred years ago. Landmark remembrances such as these are opportunities for reflection. We recall the years since, and we ask ourselves what have we become, and what are we becoming? Even more challenging is the question, how do we work together today, and what is to guide us, as we try to shape our tomorrow?

In a similar way, Christmas gives all Christians an opportunity, not only to celebrate and to enjoy the festivities, but also to pause for thought. What was the significance of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and how does it affect us and transform us in our lives, in our relationships, and in our engagement with the world around us today?

We live in a society that faces many challenges that call for our resolve, partnership and commitment, including, for example, poverty, homelessness, housing, mental health issues, and enduring economic concerns. On a broader stage, BREXIT, political stability within Europe, migration, human catastrophe, and wars, especially in the Middle East, weigh on many minds during the current time.

It is against this background that we celebrate Christmas this year. We hear again the Christmas message of light and hope. The message of the angels announcing the good news was ‘Do not be afraid’. When the baby was born they named him ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God is with us.’ And the assurance from Saint John’s Gospel is that Jesus, the Word of God ‘shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’

May Jesus, the Word of God, ‘the light who shines in darkness’ be your light and hope; may God be with you all this Christmas and always.

+Paul Colton,                                                                          +John Buckley,      

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross                                               Bishop of Cork and Ross. 

– Ends –

 Further information from:

Sam Wynn        Church of Ireland Diocesan Communications Officer

Telephone:      +353 (0)86 813 7659

E mail              media@corkchurchofireland.com

Posted in Bishop, Christmas, Church in Society, Cork, Diocese, Ecumenism, Festivals

Find Christmas Tough? An Invitation to a Blue Christmas at St Anne’s, Shandon, Cork

Christmas is not a jolly time for everyone.  If you are someone who finds Christmas tough going, Saint Anne’s Church, Shandon, Cork invites you to a ‘Blue Christmas’ on Wednesday, 14th December at 7.30 p.m.

A ‘Blue Christmas’ will be a quiet reflective Service to help people connect with the comfort and hope at the heart of the Christmas story while acknowledging that this is not a joyous time for everyone, for whatever reason: bereavement, loneliness, anxiety or loss, for example.   All Welcome!

Blue Christmas

Posted in Christmas, Church in Society, Church Services, Community Involvement, Contemporary Issues, Diocese, Pastoral

‘The Great Adventure to Bethlehem’ in Ballydehob, County Cork

The Church of Ireland parish of Ballydehob Union in West Cork, which includes the churches at both Ballydehob and Aughadown is hosting a children’s Christmas event called: The Great Adventure to Bethlehem.

This seasonal fun-filled festive morning will take place on Saturday 17th December , from 10am-12pm, in Ballydehob Community Hall.  The cost for the morning is €3 per child and all  children of primary school age are welcome to attend.  The morning will include a Bible Story, Games, Christmas Craft, Snack, and Songs.

Ballydehob Poster

More information please contact either:  the Rev. Steve McCann on 028 37117, 087 147 8300, ballydehobrector@gmail.com, or Esther Stevenson on 086 8442954.

Posted in Announcements, Children's Ministry, Children's Work, Christmas, Community Involvement, Diocese, Festivals

Cork’s First Christmas Tree Festival Addresses Many Contemporary Themes

Cork’s first Christmas Tree Festival was held from 2nd to 4th December in the Church of Ireland Parish of Carrigrohane Union, based at the three parish churches:  St Peter’s, Carrigrohane, St Senan’s, Inniscarra and The Church of the Resurrection, Blarney.  It was a wonderful and very happy venture.

Each church had a Prayer Tree (Redeemer, Treasure and Immanuel trees) – with shapes for people to write their own prayer and decorate the trees. Extra shapes had to be made each day as so many people took this opportunity to pray! Each church also had a Giving Tree (Poverty, Myrrh and Fruit trees) – with an opportunity for people to bring gifts of non-perishable foodstuffs for St Vincent de Paul. There was also a ‘homeless’ tree outside each church – which stopped many of people in their tracks on the way in – and a Refugee tree outside St Senan’s which included a deflated dinghy.

'Sleeping rough' - one of the Christmas Trees at Cork's First Christmas Tree Festival In Carrigrohane Union of Parishes.

‘Sleeping rough’ – one of the Christmas Trees at Cork’s First Christmas Tree Festival In Carrigrohane Union of Parishes.

Approximately a thousand people attended the weekend, including the very special occasion of the opening on 1 December in St Senan’s to which all participants, sponsors and parishioners were invited.

Groups and individuals from the parish, from local schools, businesses and community groups decorated or created the 60 trees that filled the 3 buildings – basing their decoration around a Bible verse that each had been allocated. So the trees themselves told the story of Christmas! It was such an inspiration, blessing and a help to have so many people, from across the parish and right across the community, involved.

Many people visited all 3 churches, some arriving to their first venue intending that to be the only one they visited, but decided they had to find time to get to the others before closing time! Every church was gorgeous – and each one had its own feel and atmosphere.

Music (some recorded and lots of ‘live’ musicians giving so generously of their time and talents) was enjoyed in the background and a cuppa was available to enjoy along the way. Each church also had a ‘sheep hunt’ – with 10 sheep (many knitted!) hiding. Children had a sheet to complete with the names of the hidden sheep – and a couple of golden chocolate coins as a reward at the end of each hunt.

Some of the trees made people smile, some brought forth gasps of admiration and amazement, some were reflective and still others were moving and poignant. The Festival was like harnessing the glitz and bringing everyone right to the heart of the real Good News of Christmas.

Here is the gallery of photographs of the Christmas Tree Festival:

 

Posted in Christmas, Church in Society, Community Involvement, Contemporary Issues, Diocese, Good ideas, Parish News

Live Crib -‘The Road to Bethlehem’ – at Carrigaline Church of Ireland in Aid of Local Charities

The parishioners of Saint Mary’s Church,  Carrigaline,  in the Church of Ireland Diocese of Cork, are mounting a live crib next weekend  – on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th December (2 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day).  The event, called ‘The Road to Bethlehem’, is open to all and the admission charge of €5 for adults (children free) will go to local charities including Cork Penny Dinners, Cork St Vincent de Paul and Cork Simon Community. As well as the Nativity Pageant with live animals there will be carol singing, music, teas, coffees, mulled wine and lots more.

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Posted in Announcements, Charity Work, Christmas, Diocese, Festivals, Parish News

Cork’s First Christmas Tree Festival

The Church of Ireland Carrigrohane Union of Parishes, which include the three parish churches of St Peter’s, Carrigrohane, The Church of the Resurrection, Blarney and St Senan’s, Inniscarra is hosting what it believes to be the first Christmas Tree Festival in Cork.  It will run from Friday next 2nd December until Sunday, 4th December at the Church of Ireland churches in Carrigrohane, Blarney and Inniscarra.

Each venue will host part of a trail of imaginatively decorated Christmas trees that, together, tell the Christmas story in a new and wonderful way.  The trees have started to arrive today and there is lots of interest, including from TV.

trees-8

Fifty-five school and community groups are involved in decorating the trees.  The groups come from across Carrigrohane/Ballincollig, Blarney and Inniscarra areas.  Participating groups will be provided with a verse from the Christmas story on which to base the decoration of their tree – so there will be all kinds of styles and interpretations!  Full details are available on the Christmas Tree Website.

A free souvenir programme will be produced that explains all the trees – and will include advertisements for all the local business that have sponsored the Festival. 

 The Festival will be open to the public and there will be no entrance fee.  There will be voluntary donation boxes available to support the churches’ on-going work, including local community activities, and the festival partnership with St Vincent de Paul food bank.

Posted in Christmas, Community Involvement, Cork, Diocese, Festivals, People from Cork