We have come to the end of Advent: the time of waiting is over. Tomorrow is Christmas. The night Jesus was born, the world seemed like an unsafe place for a baby, especially a baby born to a couple far away from the security of their own home and unable to find suitable lodging, vulnerable to the elements and to the rough characters living on the margins of society.
Today, with images of Aleppo and refugees dancing in our heads, how can we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace? At the end of a year of so much tragedy, evil and violence, further shaken by the uncertainty of Brexit and of a President Trump, who can feel safe, who can feel joyful? Even on a more intimate level, many people I know have been bereaved or have been battling illness or, at the very least, dealing with upset and disappointment. Is it worth celebrating Christmas at all?
It all depends on what we believe about God and our world, and about ourselves and other people. If our God is impotent or distant or disdainful or angry, then we are in trouble. But if our God is as present with us as a new-born baby gasping for air, as compassionate as a mother cradling a terrified child or as faithful as a rescue worker, digging resolutely through piles of rubble, then there is hope.
In the opening passage of the Gospel of John comes the pronouncement, “In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Further on in the same Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The baby who became the man who took on all that life could throw at him — all the evil, sin, hurt, hopelessness, grief and fear of the world — tells his friends not to be frightened, that even though he will soon be leaving them, not to be troubled. He tells them to be at peace, that in him they have peace, that his peace is present in the midst of all the challenges of life.
Do we believe the light is still shining in the darkness? Do we believe there is no darkness that can ever extinguish the light of Christ? Do we believe we have a peace that has been given to us as part of the gift of the Holy Spirit? Do we believe in the ultimate triumph of the Prince of Peace?
If we believe these things, then we can wake up tomorrow and dare to open ourselves to the joy of Christmas. For some, even though they believe, this year joy may elude them, but for those of us who can embrace the day, we must celebrate, not forgetting those who are suffering, but standing in solidarity with them by proclaiming the truth and reality and presence of Christ. Whether taking a service, serving a meal or visiting those in prison, in hospital or out on the streets — or simply safely curled up in a cosy room with our loved ones — we must let our hearts shout out — Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Christina Rees CBE was a member of General Synod for 25 years, and a founder member of Archbishops’ Council. She is a writer, broadcaster, communications consultant, and advocate for gender justice.
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