At Christmas we stand on the threshold of great promise. It is promise of what is yet to be – a new ordering for us and our world.
As the prophet Isaiah foretold: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” It is a new era of peace, good news and salvation in which God comforts his people and the ends of the Earth see the salvation of God in life-giving ways. The old order is ending. A new age has dawned (I’m writing just before the time of the UK General Election!).
Christmas offers a time to recalibrate life’s compass in the light of the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a day and a season to wonder and respect a new reality when God’s newness can be given to us – God, in Christ, born in a smelly stable with the power to dispel darkness and overcome the power of death.
The story around which people gather is a story of transforming hope for new life. The scriptures set for the season invite and permit us to make a new beginning. When that happens, heaven and earth ‘sing’, and there is ‘joy to the world’. In an age when communication is key, we express joy as we send cards, exchange gifts and make merry!
God the word
But how does God communicate? Sure, God spoke to people in many and various ways in the past: sometimes quite dramatically through fire, floods, thunderbolts and lightning, and to mostly biblical giants like Abraham, Moses and Noah. But at Christmas, God speaks to every one of us through his son, Jesus Christ.
God does so through prophecy, prayer and the circumstances of our lives: prosperity, redundancy, pregnancy, asylum – even death! Moreover, God speaks to us musically through the Bible, heard over and over again in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ or Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’, which are being performed all over the city. It is the word of God. Rightly, the church has been keen to consider the printed word of God. Wrongly, all too often it has succumbed to text alone to tell of the mighty acts of God.
We often use music and poetry to unravel mystery. And the poetic opening to St John’s Gospel, a highlight among our Christmas readings, asserts this: “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God … In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
God the baby
God comes not as a mighty king, warrior or politician but as a little baby – tiny, vulnerable and one whom we instinctively want to protect. Contrary to all expectation, God comes not like some great floodlight, but like a candle flame offering light but also tenderness, warmth and love.
Much as we may want to freeze-frame the moment, the message of Christmas does not stop on December 25. The gospel records how the many who received him called upon his name to give them the power to become children of God.
Whatever our circumstances, Christ the child, the baby of Bethlehem, reaches out to us. Dare we receive him into our hearts, our homes and our lives?
In the name of Emmanuel – God with us – I wish you all a Happy Christmas and blessed 2020.