28 December 2010
Christmas message on Compass FM
Even though my childhood was some time ago, I still love the excitement of Christmas day. There is stillness around with people just pausing in the constant rush of life to appreciate family and friends – the presents, a lunch and for many of us the carols and prayers all serve to touch base with something beyond our preoccupation with the problems which challenge us the rest of the year.
At the heart of Christmas is a story – the story of the birth of a baby some 2000 years ago in a troublesome part of the Roman Empire. Some people only ever touch the surface of this story and remain in themselves untouched by it, or relegate it as something for children. Yet, like all of the best stories, the story of angels, shepherds and a young girl giving birth in a stable invites us to go deeper, beyond the concerns of fact or fiction, to go deeper into the mystery of life and the possibilities of God.
The Christmas story draws us into its power because in no small way it is our story. Each of us has been a baby coming into the world with all the risk, vulnerability and uncertainty of birth. In the same way, each of us knows the sheer complexity of love and being loved.
The wonder of the Christmas story is that we are drawn into the possibility that there is within the child Jesus a glimpse not only of the nature and heart of God, but also what it means to be human. And it is that possibility which Christians continue to explore and study as we embrace the possibilities of God into our lives.
Christmas 2010 finds us beset with problems – with the weather, with the economy and with the absence of any convincing political vision for the future. The recession and the Government’s response to the financial turmoil is creating many victims and causing much despair. At times it almost seems that the poor and the vulnerable are being punished for the inability of the economy to bring the sustained prosperity which politicians had promised and for the recklessness and greed of the bankers.
The story of Christmas doesn’t offer quick and easy answers to these challenging issues, instead it offers us a quality of life to shape a different future. The child of Bethlehem grows up to reveal that love, forgiveness and lives filled with God’s character are the qualities which shape the future. It is why the story of Jesus and the story of Christmas continue to fascinate the world, drawing us back again and again, Christmas after Christmas to the mystery of love wrapped in the risk and vulnerability of a baby. It is the only story which holds out the simple truth, that it is through love, sacrifice and a Godly heart that you can transform the future – such a vision is not on offer anywhere else, for it can only come through the risk and vulnerability of the love which came down at Christmas.
24 December 2009
The past week has seen much of the country held in the grip of freezing weather which has brought in its wake not just inconvenience and travel disruption, but the tragic loss of life on the roads. It has also deepened the plight of those who live on the streets and for those who cannot afford to heat their homes.
“When the snow lay round about Deep and crisp and even” really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, yet in the spirit of Good King Wenceslas there have been countless acts of generosity and hospitality in the face of such extreme weather – not lease the reaction of the John Lewis store in High Wycombe, which gave overnight shelter to around 100 staff and customers trapped in the store by a blizzard – a wonderful example of responding to what really matters. Perhaps inevitably it is only when the ‘chips are really down’ that we ask the question “What really matters?”
Yet as we prepare to celebrate the gift of a new birth in that stable of Bethlehem we need to remind ourselves that the story of Bethlehem – the story of shepherds, wise men, of angels and of the baby Jesus – isn’t a story which gives answers, rather it’s a story which asks a question and down the ages the Christmas story repeats that question afresh in each generation – what really matters? The story of the birth of Jesus invites us to discover God in that child; to discover God in all the vulnerability of love; to discover God in all the risks and danger which that child encountered.
‘What really matters?’ is a demanding question, yet in answering it, our inner self, our values and our spirit is revealed. As we look back on the story of this past year, that same question has woven its way through the events of 2009 – what really matters? In the devastating floods in the Lake District; during the funerals of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan; as our economy has continued to flounder; as we have been disappointed by what has been revealed about some of our politicians; as we respond to the issues of climate change – we have to ask ourselves ‘what really matters?. It is a question which challenges us to make sense of life and our response to that question gives shape, purpose and value to us and to our communities.
In the coming year there will be a general election. The question from Bethlehem, the question to be found in the Christmas story – ‘What really matters?’ – needs to be addressed by those who will be seeking power. For politicians who fail to address this fundamental question will have little to offer the complexities of our world and of our society.
In that child Jesus we glimpse something of God’s answer to this question as we find value in the love and vulnerability of a baby. It is in the story of Christmas that we being to discover what really matters as we glimpse God’s commitment to life and it is in the message of the angels that we glimpse the cost and value of peace in bringing joy to this world.
As we celebrate Christmas this year may the baby of Bethlehem ask you the question “What really matters to you?” and I pray that you will find your answer in the love and vulnerability of that child whom we celebrate at this time and through whom we can come to know God.
20 December 2008
One of the things I love about Christmas day is that for just a few hours there is a different pace to life. The shops shut, commerce is suspended, lorries are off the road and there is a pause in the rush and bustle of life. Christmas continues to hold the attention not just of our own country, but of many, many countries across the world.
During a school visit, I was recently asked what does Christmas mean to me. I found that the answer came quite easily as, for me, Christmas is about possibility – it is about the possibility of God. There is no proof about God because of the Christmas story. Angels, shepherds, wise men, gifts and a manger are much enjoyed details about a far bigger question. A question which is there each and every time we hold a newborn baby – what are the possibilities for this child? Few of us who are parents or grandparents cannot but have been thrilled at encountering all the possibilities contained within the fragility and vulnerability of a new member to our family.
The birth of Jesus offers the same experience, but he is also wrapped in a belief that through this child we encounter the possibilities of God – possibilities which embraced love, peace, gentleness, kindness, forgiveness and hope. I think that this is why so many people continue to be attracted to this baby of Bethlehem, for these possibilities are the very ones we hope to find in our own lives. During this Christmas time, congregations in churches will swell and I suspect that many of those unfamiliar with church will come to sing carols and mouth unfamiliar prayers because they are drawn to the services by the reality that we all want these sorts of possibilities to be part of our lives as well.
Christmas is an invitation for us to renew ourselves in the possibilities of love, of peace, of gentleness, of kindness, or forgiveness and of hope that they may become the stuff of our lives as well. I hope and pray that the qualities of life celebrated in this baby of Bethlehem will become ours, not just for a few hours each year, but for each and every day.
Originally published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle