Greetings and peace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of another busy year, it is my pleasure and delight to wish you all a holy and blessed Christmas. This is a holy time in the Churchâ€™s year when we pause to celebrate the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago. Jesus was born in a stable in the town of Bethlehem in very humble circumstances, and the first to offer their worship were shepherds who responded to a message from an angel who told them the Good News that a Saviour was born, the Messiah, the Lord.
People have all sorts of ways of keeping in touch with this. Some people go on tours to the Holy Land to visit Bethlehem. They come back with nativity scenes, figures of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus which they set up in their living rooms. Some bring back other reminders of the Holy Land; water from the Jordan River, or a stone that might be incorporated into a church building. Christians have been making these kinds of pilgrimages for centuries and bringing back reminders of the story to help make it a present reality for us today.
Bethlehem today is a very different place from that depicted in our carols and Christmas cards. It is surrounded by a wall designed to keep Palestinian people out of Israel. It has frequently been caught up in the violence of conflict in that part of the world. Modern day Bethlehem is a reminder that the world is ridden with division and violence, where injustice, misuse of power and violence abound, and where those who are powerless are expected to be submissive to those with power. This reflects the way many people of the world think the Church should be as well; compelled into submission.
This is not the way of God. Jesus is the fullness of God revealed to us in a whole human life. He comes in vulnerability, as a helpless child, to be alongside us and to share our humanity. He invites us to follow him. He never attempts to force us to follow, but he comes as the fullness of Godâ€™s grace and love to win us over. He shows us that the God we worship and that Christians believe in refuses to come in force, but in humility and in love.
The carol, â€śO little town of Bethlehemâ€ť has this line in the first verse: â€śthe hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.â€ť God is aware of the messiness of life and comes to be alongside us on our journey. God comes to dispel the darkness that we face, to be with us as we cope with the messiness of life and the difficulties we find ourselves in. God comes to open up a future laden with hope that is beyond our imagination; a future where there is justice and love. In short, God comes to give us a taste heaven. This Christmas, give your hopes and your fears to God. For Jesus is born to bring love into the world. He is with us and alongside us, working for love, peace and hope, that these gifts may be received in our hearts and in the hearts of every human being, so that all may know Godâ€™s love.
Once again, may you and yours have a holy and blessed Christmas, and a Happy New Year.
The Very Reverend Lawrence Kimberley