Before writing this letter, I looked through the past magazine articles on my computer, and found that it was me who was asked to write the December/January article for last year. I wrote then “I suspect most of us are in the midst of writing cards, buying presents, and trying to arrange meetings and greetings with our nearest and dearest. Then of course there are the spicy smells of the special food being prepared for the special day. Also, as the Christmas song says, ‘It is the busiest time of the year.”
What I did not say was that the year before, all our plans for Christmas were called to a halt very suddenly because of COVID. It was certainly not the Christmas we had all hoped for. It came with a great deal of uncertainty for the future year to come.
Yet sadly, I suspect this may ring true for many people this year too, except this time COVID will not be the cause – poverty will be. We all know of the price of fuel and rising food prices. Now we have economists and bankers talking about interest rates and tax rises in the New Year. All of us will be affected of course, but for those who are less well off, or poorly paid, it will be a very anxious time. Like many, my son and his girlfriend even now can’t afford to heat their home. Christmas and New Year may be a very poor event for many in our community.
Yes we will pray in our churches and in our private prayer for those less well off than ourselves, but prayer also changes things. Do not be surprised if we ourselves are called to be active in service. We may be called to join with others to help those in our community who are in need. Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘There is no such thing as cheap grace’. He expressed a view that through God’s good grace we receive all the blessing of heaven. However, we in turn are called to act on that grace by standing and sharing with others. It is for this reason that Bonhoeffer returned to Germany instead of staying safely living in the USA throughout World War 2. He said he could never have gone back to Germany if he had not been with his fellow Germans who were standing against such an evil as Hitler. For this sacrificial belief, we know he was arrested and killed for speaking out against an evil regime.
We see at Christmas a baby in a manger, and a family who became refugees. God’s gift to us. The child Jesus who ultimately gave His life for us.
Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, all three seasons have a theological meaning. Advent, the looking for the second coming, Christmas, when we experience the first coming of Christ, and Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the world. All profoundly meaningful in their own right, but like the Trinity, bound together declaring the love of God to all. We are holders of that love and our lives should witness to it by our actions.
Those who bring great kindness into the world and change so many lives for the better, do not intend to be the great and the good, they just respond to God’s calling. I and my family have experienced such kindness from others when we were at our poorest, and know the difference it made to our lives. It was a true blessing from God. I am sorry if this sounds like ‘doom and gloom’, but at the heart of Christmas is the love of God. Jesus was born to bring joy to all our hearts. Not just to mine or yours, but to the heart of the world. That joy is to last a lifetime, it is not just for Christmas.