notre dame montreal

In the bleak mid winter – from the hymn by Christina Rossetti

 Sermon by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman


In the bleak mid winter frosty winds may roam…

 I was reading an article about the part of North Eastern Russia, Chukotka where Roman Abramovich, of Chelsea fame, is the Governor

According to a Time magazine article last December, he’s invested over £100m of his own money to build everything from hotels and cinemas to supermarkets for the declining population

It’s a bleak frozen province with a population of just 73,000, where the temperature at this time of year can drop to -40 C and there are biting cold winds which whip at any exposed flesh raw in seconds

The ground is so frozen that the sewage pipes and other utilities have to be laid on the surface of the ground as it’s impossible to dig into the frozen land to bury them in the normal manner

It’s a bleak, seemingly desolate and frozen landscape where to say ‘the frosty winds may moan’ is a complete understatement

But it’s a good image of what Christmas time would be like without Christ

Cold, bleak, wintry, seemingly hopeless, a hard place to try to grind out some kind of existence, never mind life, with little hope of improvement or relief

Like Narnia in the C S Lewis books, always winter, never summer

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him…

Fortunately God had a plan to redeem the world from this state of cold wintry hopelessness

For as Mary and Joseph approached Bethlehem, God pulled back the veil which separates heaven and earth and reached down to place His Son Jesus in a cold and draughty stable at the back of an inn

The God who is all powerful broke through time and space to come down from heaven, as heaven could no longer hold Him

It’s as if He’d seen enough and was compelled to act, to reach down and placed Jesus in the manger

And as He did so, God became incarnate, became like us so we could become like Him

He became incarnate so that the pathway between heaven and earth which He had just opened up would be permanently open and that we would have access to our Father God so that we needn’t feel cold ever again

He became incarnate so that ‘we no more may die’, incarnate and ‘born to raise the sons and daughters of earth’, born to give them and us second birth, a second chance as the familiar carol goes

He became incarnate so that we could have a relationship with the Father and experience His love and care

It was God’s gift to the world, to bring healing, wholeness and peace to all those who would acknowledge Him

The Messiah, the anointed one, for whom the Jews prayed daily, had come and, for some, life was about to change


Angels and archangels may have gathered there…

But Jesus coming is only half the story, for just as some came to acknowledge His birth, others chose to ignore Him, perhaps even hoped He would go away

And throughout His life many of the Jews and Gentiles, though they saw Him, though they heard about Him, though they perhaps even read about Him, they did not acknowledge who He was

They chose to ignore Him and continued to live their lives as if nothing had happened, as if Christ and Christmas hadn’t come

But others chose to follow Him, and began to try to show His love by caring for others and putting their needs before their own

And through trying to bring happiness to others they discovered that they found happiness in and for themselves, they found a new meaning to their own lives

Perhaps not always perfect, perhaps not always in the way they expected, perhaps not all the time, as the world continues to be a cold and hostile environment in many places, but a meaning to life as they continued to accepted and respond to the gift that God had given them that first Christmas

What can I give Him, poor as I am…

For like all Christmas presents, God’s Christmas gift of Jesus invites a response

We can decide that what happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago is just a story, perhaps even an historical event but something that has no relevance for us today

We can be like so many Jews and Gentiles over the years and ignore the reality of Christ incarnate

We can hear about Him (again) each Christmas time and a few other times through the year and then continue as if nothing had happened, as if the Christmas story is just that, a story

But the reality is that it isn’t just a story and each Christmas God invites us to respond to Christ for who He is, Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, afresh

He invites us to make a place for Him in our lives and to share His love with the world

To make a place for the one who comes in the deep cold of winter to bring the warmth of His God’s to the world, to melt the long frozen places in our lives

To make a place for the one who gives us the best present we could ever have

The one who each year at this time pulls back the veil between heaven and earth so we can get a renewed glimpse into His kingdom

The one who invites us to decide what we want to give Him as we sing His praises and celebrate His birth this Christmas