First Sunday of Christmas - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    Jeremiah 23.1-6; Colossians 2.8-15

In just a few hours the fireworks will erupt on the Southbank as Big Ben rings out the old year and rings in the new

2017 will be behind us and 2018 will be beginning. I always find it a hard evening in many ways, a real mix of emotions, and the poet Christina Rossetti in her poem ‘Old and New Year Ditties’ sums it up for me when she writes

Watch with me this last vigil of the year.
Some hug their business, some their pleasure-scheme;
Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream;
Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.

We will each keep this evening and this night differently, in our own ways, some with joy, some with fierce expectancy and some with fear. 

Perhaps the most famous poem for this evening is the one that caught the public attention and the popular imagination when King George VI quoted it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire. It was written a number of years earlier by Minnie Louise Haskins.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

The prophet Jeremiah gives a word of reassurance to the people.  They’ve been ill served by their political and religious leaders, they’ve been led down false paths, there’s been corruption and the nation is not what it once was, in exile, captive, enslaved once more, not as God desired for his people.  The ones they’d trusted as their shepherds, for leading the people into good pasture, had proved to be false shepherds and so God says to the people through the prophet

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

It was a powerful word for the people to hear, an unwanted word for those who held power.  But following the true shepherd, putting, as it were, their hand in the hand of God was all that they could do.

St Paul in his Letter to the Colossians, our Second Lesson, begins with a similar warning

‘See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition .. and not according to Christ.’

This has not been an easy year and none of us knows what tomorrow may hold for us.  All we can do is trust in God and in the name of Jesus whose naming and circumcision we begin to celebrate, for there is a deep truth to hold onto as we step together into the new unknown and it comes from the Acts of the Apostles.

The apostles Peter and John are on trial for having witnessed to Jesus in the healing of a paralysed man who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They boldly stand before the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities, the shepherds of the people and Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says these words

‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

‘Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.’

We watch for the coming of the New Year, we place our hand in the hand of God and with the name of Jesus on our lips step into whatever lies ahead for we know that the true shepherd will lead us.