Father Andrew’s Homily at the University Festival of Lessons and Carols


Homily of the Father Andrew Cole at the
University of Nottingham Festival of Lessons & Carols
In St Mary the Virgin Church, Nottingham
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Thursday 8th December 2016

At the beginning of our Festival of Lessons and Carols this evening, the Vice-
Chancellor read a most important verse from the Book of Genesis, the first Book of
the Christian Bible; set in the context of the Creation of all things, visible and
invisible, this short verse tells us an important truth about humanity:

God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

It is axiomatic for the Christian faith that each and every person is made in
God’s image and is directly willed into life. That is why we talk about the sanctity of
human life, or the dignity of human life, a concept that underpins all other human
rights and responsibilities, and which is expressed in the relationships that we build
with God, one another and ourselves. Each one of us here tonight, and our seven
billion or so brothers and sisters throughout the world – whatever our background,
faith, sex, race, nationality, sexual orientation, political persuasion, academic ability,
or indeed any other purely human characteristic – has an innate and inalienable
dignity that no person, organisation or institution, no matter how worthy, can ever
take away. No matter what good we do or suffering we endure, or even cause,
wittingly or otherwise, we are loved and can love, we can forgive and be forgiven, by
God, by one another and by ourselves.

Humankind is not an abstract, but is realised concretely in all of us – we are all
gifts from God, and gifts to each other. That is why the way in which we treat one
another, within our families, our homes, our halls of residence, our departments,
our University, matters. The message of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s great hymn of
thanksgiving is so important: God is the one who transforms humanity, and gives us
the grace that we need to transform the world around us; he has brought down the
powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with
good things, and sent the rich away empty. And we should do likewise. Advancing in
learning means turning the world upside down with new ideas, new research.

Our Creation is wonderful, and God saw all that he had made and found it
very good, then the new life that God offers us in Christ is even more wonderful.
Jesus, whose Birth we celebrate on Christmas Day, whose Death and Resurrection
brought new life, fulfils God’s creative work, the Word made flesh, the glory of God
in out midst. He is, as our carols remind us tonight, Emmanuel, God-with-us; he is
simply God’s greatest gift to us, and calls us into a deep and profound personal and
intimate relationship with him. That is what we will be professing when we sing
shortly, ‘O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.’ We can just sing it, or we can
mean it. The Lord Jesus reveals God to us, the Word incarnate, dwelling in our
midst; but he does so by revealing what it is to be fully human, fully alive acting
always with integrity, laying down his life for his friends, for the whole of humanity.
Hardly surprising when he came that we may have life, and have it to the full.

Our giftedness as creation and participants in God’s creative work to is, in a
sense, why we make more of an effort at Christmas. Many of us will soon be
travelling to be with our families; many of us who remain will spend time with our
Nottingham family during these next few weeks. We buy presents for our families
and friends, following the example of the Wise Men, who brought their symbolic
offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Infant Jesus. But maybe we should
not so much think about giving gifts to each other, but being gift to one another,
giving of ourselves freely and openly, treating each other with the respect which
everyone deserves.

Christians believe that this love which we emphasise at Christmas is a sign of
God’s eternal, all-embracing love for us. The Bible teaches us that ‘God so loved the
world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but
have eternal life’. Our cards, presents, Christmas trees, dinners and parties, even our
Festival of Lessons and Carols, all give thanks to God for sending us Jesus, born of
Mary in Bethlehem, foretold by the Prophets, announced by the Angels, and
worshipped by shepherds and wise men.

Tonight, we have once again gathered as a University, together with people
from across the city and county in which we live, to listen to the great story of
Christmas, and what God’s love means for us today. We will have the chance to do
so again in churches throughout the world on Christmas Day, to find space in our
hearts for the God who calls us into new life with him. As we thank God for the gift
of human life, for the gift of Jesus who came so that we may have life, and have it to
the full, let us always be gifts to each other.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the
beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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This blog is a forum for discussion of ideas from a faith-based perspective. The views expressed on it are those of the authors and cannot be held to represent those of the Diocese of Nottingham or the University of Nottingham Catholic Chaplaincy.