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.