When I announced in September that I will be retiring next summer (see the piece later in this issue) it seemed a long way in advance. But the reason we made this decision, was so that as we go through the next nine months, we will be able to recognise and celebrate all of the ‘last’ occasions we will be having together.
So as we approach our 25th, and last, Christmas in Marston, I am beginning to think about what I want to say about this major event in the Christian Story. There are so many different aspects of what happened those two thousand years ago, and so many views about exactly what did happen and what it means, that there is almost endless scope for reflection and prayer.
At the heart of it all lies the central affirmation of the Christian faith: that the truth behind the mystery of everything, is Love. Or, in the simpler, well-known words of John 3.16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In that baby, born in such unpromising conditions in Bethlehem, God himself was coming into the world to show us who God is. To show us God’s true nature, to tell us how God wants to relate to us human creatures, and how we can live and enjoy that relationship, and in the end to show us the full extent of God’s love, by giving up his life for us even though we failed to understand, and in our misery and hatred, brought him to that cruel and violent end. The cross already casts its shadow over the manger; but the end of the story is that God’s love is not defeated, but endures and still invites every one of us to respond with all the love we can.
The words of the angelic host, who announced the news of Jesus’ birth to the astonished shepherds outside Bethlehem, still ring through the world: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2.14, KJV). God’s glory and greatness are shown in the sheer generosity, and risk, and joy, and adventure of embracing this way of coming to save a broken world. Our response is to give him that glory, by the return of our love, thankfulness, worship, and imitation. The expression ‘peace, goodwill toward men’, can be understood in different ways. It can mean peace, among all those whom God favours, protects and blesses – that is, potentially, every single human being, since it is for the whole human race that Christ came.
Every Christmas brings the tragic reminder that peace is a commodity which is desperately absent from our world. In the past couple of years it seems that wars have multiplied, and the suffering caused to millions of people continues undiminished. It’s hard to conceive why the human race chooses war rather than peace, when all claim that they desire peace, and certainly peace is what God wants. The reason is, that war is an inevitable result of the ‘fallen’ state of human beings when we deliberately turn away from God, rejecting God and the glory and good will of that Christmas song. Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, in Genesis 4, is the precursor of every act of violence and bloodshed that has followed throughout history.
The remedy will be, when all of us turn back to God in love of God, and the love of all those whom we will then see for the first time as our brothers and sisters. No doubt we cannot imagine how anything we do could change such a world as this; but that doesn’t excuse us from taking the first small steps.
Receive the gift of God’s Son, born into the world out of love. And give glory, praise and love to God and to all whom God loves. That’s all.