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Binding the spiritual

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Sermon for Christmas Day

There are many people out there who say that they are “spiritual but not religious.” What do they mean?

These folk reject what they call organised religion in favour of seeking meaning within their own lives and spirits. Yet, lest anyone dare rush to condemn these folk, we should at least consider their reasons. Sometimes organised religion hasn’t served humanity very well. Most regrettably, there have been times when members of the Church have wounded critically the lives of men and women to the extent that they see the Church as an oppressive organisation. Sometimes, all the policies, patterns and procedures drive people away rather than encourage them. Sometimes, Christians just aren’t very nice people.

And yet, look how full the cathedrals and churches get for Midnight Mass, how carol services, nativity plays and singing are still really popular even with people who would not describe themselves as Christian. Why is this so? Why do people who are spiritual but not religious often find much comfort in observing Christmas Day?

Is it because the baby in the manger is so cute?

Is it because the baby in the manger is a sign of hope against poverty, victimhood, and oppression?

Is it because the baby in the manger is a good story being handed down from generation to generation?

Is it because of the baby in the manger at all?


There is within the human spirit a desire for light, a desire for nourishment and a desire for love and these desires hit us at the very heart of our souls. Darkness, hunger and cold are not part of the human condition and when we are overwhelmed by them, we start to shut down. For those who are spiritual but not religious, this resonates with them deeply.

Midnight Mass is where the Church stands up in defiance at darkness, hunger and cold. With candles and heaters alight and the old, old story proclaimed from the pulpit, the attention goes to the advent of the Lord in the sacrament. Whether or not the individual believes in the Real Presence, there is something there for them to think on.

And all goes back to the baby in the manger.

For, as St John tells us, the baby in the manger is there to combat all the ills of humanity and He does so by being the purest love in human form. This love is a thread that passes through all humanity from the beginning, and it binds us together in solidarity. As long as we allow this thread to grow and develop in our lives, we can be sure that we will be free of darkness, of cold, of hunger, of pain, of degradation and humiliation because this baby lies in the manger for each one of us, for you, you and you. No exception.

What we feel in our spirit that pulls us to Christmas is the thread of love that is knotted into our humanity in the person of the baby in the manger, a baby who will grow, and teach, and work wonders, and scandalise organised religion, and die horribly, and rise again.

We are tied to Christ in love. Which is interesting.

For the Latin for “tied” is at the root of words like ligature, ligament and obligation. And it is at the root of religion.

One cannot be Christian without being religious. It is true that we do not have to be tied to cruel and insensitive organisations, but the Church should not be such. There are so many people out there who need to see the truth of the baby in the manger who are drawn to that manger by something they cannot understand and we cannot let them leave that manger without showing them in ourselves that same love that he showed us.

The Church is not about power, system, and control and if people think that it is, then we’re doing something wrong. Christian Doctrine may be fixed, but it is fixed in love and not power for the salvation of anyone who desires to be free of darkness, hunger and cold. If people are put off the Church because of human sin, then it is our duty to repent and draw them back by the image of the baby in the manger meaning more in our lives than anything this dark world can offer.

We have no grounds at all to condemn anyone who says they are spiritual but not religious. We just need to show them that what ties us is that life-line that will pull us into endless joy and eternal Christmas Day.

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