Saturday, April 12, 2014

The invitation of Christmas
By Editor
Wed 25 Dec. 2013, 14:00 CAT

When we want to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and on its significance for the world and for our lives, we turn to John's gospel. There are no shepherds, no wise men or angels; not even Mary and Joseph.

John's was the last gospel to be written and it begins not with a story but with a pronouncement. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." The staggering, incredible pronouncement; "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

We love hearing it - we love reading it - but more importantly, we are overwhelmed and humbled by the message these words proclaim.
It's the story beneath the story - the staggering assertion that in this child, this vulnerable baby, God came to be with us. He came to earth to share and bond with our humanness, in our joys, our sorrows, our hurt and our brokenness. He is a God who comes down to us - into the glamour and grime of human life. He shares and holds us close to Himself, bringing healing and hope.

That is the amazing claim of the Christmas tale, the story many of us know almost word for word and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it, that this child, in coming among us, pierces the darkness of today's world with a dazzling light of God's love. Then you almost whisper John's words, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it, has not been able to put it out."

Every one of us, we suspect, has known darkness of one kind or another; and for some that darkness is very deep. It can be the loss of someone dear to us; illness; anxiety about our families, our future; the darkness of addiction; the darkness when we are bereft of hope. There are many kinds of darkness.

The message of Christ is that we are not alone in the darkness, whatever it is, because light has come. Often flickering and fragile, like the light of a candle but still burning and still dispelling the darkness.

In a world of so much uncertainty and longing for hope, we so desperately want this story to be real. We want it to offer us the comfort and assurance of a God who has not abandoned us but who cares deeply about us and our world.

So we urge you this Christmas to go back to John's gospel, to read that first chapter, to let the words themselves speak to you. And we would urge you to grasp hold of the truth that is being lovingly held out to you.

The invitation of Christmas is to live out our lives in that light, to trust that God came in that baby and continues to come into life, the life of this world. When we live in that love, that light, no darkness will ever overcome it.

We who believe that story must live in the light of its truth. Long ago, in the dark night, in a stable behind a crowded inn, a child was born. In him was life - and the life was the light of all people.
The gospel stories of Christmas, read properly, are about deprivation, hardship, danger and defencelessness, all of which most definitely have a topical ring to them across the width and breadth of our country today, rather than about good times for a minority and for 'people who matter'.

If we were to look close still at the biblical stories of the Nativity, we see that they are saying startlingly contemporary things to every community and to every individual, the most important of which is that we all matter, regardless of who or what we are, or what we have. The sheer significance of the holy family in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day cannot be over-exaggerated. They didn't count - except in terms of a census - and they had no one and nothing behind them, except perhaps a marginal kindness by one individual who was persuaded to find somewhere private where Joseph and Mary might have at least a modicum of dignity for the birth of a child. Yet for all of the squalour and deprivation recounted, this sad little story was of eternal and universal significance. This muted and pitiable episode in history was, in the theological language of John's gospel, nothing less than the Word of God invading the world. And by the Word of God, we mean that which is the real meaning of everything, that which is the underlying logic and reason behind all creation. As you seek and as we seek to relate usefully, practically and even sacrificially - as we all must do - to those who are being crushed by what is happening to them here today, very probably through no conceivable fault of their own, we can surely see the crucial connection with that event in Bethlehem. No matter how much we have tried to wrap up the Nativity in tinsel and pretty wrapping paper, it was the embodiment of real need and danger, and yet was the Word of God in its fullness.

The message of Christmas is clear: the Word of God was and is to be found in all its power and love in the most ordinary and even the most pitiable of places, and it is there that we must continue to seek Christ.

Above all, we must never doubt for one moment that we all matter infinitely to God and that we must, therefore, all matter infinitely to one another.

A blessed and peaceful Christmas to you all.

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