A Christmas Message from the Holywell Community. You can listen to a broadcast version here.
We wanted to share the Christian perspective of Christmas and explain how it is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. I want you to imagine a young couple in Syria who are about to have their first child. But then, because of the civil war, their town is no longer safe, so they have to make the long journey, whilst she is heavily pregnant, to a town as yet unaffected by the conflict. On arrival, however, they find that everyone else has fled their homes too and there is nowhere left to stay. One of the locals offers them his barn to stay in; and shortly after arriving there, she gives birth. Very soon however the so called IS arrive in the next town and they have to flee again to a nearby country until the crisis has calmed and it is safe to return.
That is the story of Christmas. We often sanitise it for kids nativity plays but here is how it happened according to St Luke and St Matthew. A young woman called Mary and her husband Joseph, living in the then Roman occupied Israel, are preparing for the birth of their first child but shortly before she is to give birth the Emperor decrees that all must return to their ancestral homes for a census. So they make the long journey to Bethlehem and upon arrival have to stay in a stable and it is there that she gives birth. Over the coming days they have many strange visitors. Shepherds arrive from the nearby fields who claim to have seen angels in the sky who told them to see the new king. Magi, whom the kings of the east called upon for advice and foretelling of the future, turn up and with them bring gifts fit for kings and high priests. The local ruler Herod, having declared himself king over Israel, gets news of this baby king and decides to kill him. Problem being that he doesn’t know who this baby is, only that he is living in Bethlehem. So he issues an order for all children below the age of two to be killed. And so this young family flee to Egypt to await Herod’s death.
Jesus’ birth is intrinsically linked with his life and his death. You see at Jesus’ birth how shepherds came to visit him. Shepherds in those days weren’t like those of today, they lived amongst their sheep to keep them safe and as such lived apart from society. They weren’t the most popular people and were almost outcasts, social pariahs if you like; and yet here they are at the birth of Jesus, a king, the saviour of the world. Jesus spent his life among outcasts and those whom society would rather forget, showing them God’s love.
Along with the shepherds came the Magi. They weren’t part of Jewish culture, they didn’t have any of the promises that God’s people had. And yet they travelled for miles to see him. Jesus, although spending most of his ministry amongst his own people, didn’t distance himself from those who weren’t part of the nation of Israel, extending God’s love and mercy to them also.
This is the message of Christmas; God created our world perfect and we messed it up, we were supposed to care for the world and all that is in it and we almost immediately failed. This isn’t merely historical either, look around today and you see people simply looking out for themselves ignoring the needs of others. God saw the mess we had made of the world and decided to intervene. He was born of a virgin; Mary. Grew up just like any other child would have in those days. At the age of 30 he begins travelling, teaching how God loves the world, how to care for each other and how to come back to God. Teaching about the ways of God. He goes about healing too, showing mercy to those in need and giving grace to those who have made a mess of their lives, allowing them to come back to him free of the punishment they deserved. God, in human form; Jesus, spent 3 years doing all this before finishing His work. He travelled to Jerusalem and was killed on the cross by the people He came to save. And in doing so made that sacrifice that opens heaven’s doors to all who believe and trust in Him. Following in His ways.
The message of Christmas is God seeing the mess and, rather than ignoring it, plunging into it up to His neck, hauling us out of the mess and showing us how to fix it. It’s the message of an all powerful God coming in the form of a vulnerable Baby in a small town, in a small country, in an occupied land, to teach and heal and to make a way for us all to know Him if we only ask, that when we die, we will go to be with him forever.
Jesus lived and died as he was born, surrounded by outcasts and facing violence and persecution. And now from heaven He does the same, coming near to those who are outcast from society, with those who face violence and terror; providing strength and comfort to all who call upon Him.
Let us pray.
God our Father, we thank You that You sent Your Son into this world that He may teach us how to know You and to make a way to know you personally. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on you this Christmas, that you may provide us with the strength to face all those things which come up against us, and comfort us in all things that trouble us. Hold us close now and forever. Amen
From everyone at the Holywell Community and St Mary’s Priory, we hope you have a joyful and blessed Christmas.