[ One of Jessica’s best from 2013]
Well, Neo and I are both, in our ways, in the bosom of our families, and we both hope that you are too – but perhaps like us, you are just looking at that Reader in the intervals of good cheer and fellowship. We are all, of course, extremely fortunate, and when you think of the many Christians in the Holy Land and its environs who live in fear, it makes you glad for what you have – but sorrowful for them; it puts our woes into perspective.
We are so used to Christianity that we tend to think of it as our religion in the sense that it is something of the West – which is in a way a tribute to our Faith. It has spread across the globe, and it has adapted itself to so many different cultures because it appeals to something we all have in common – a sense of brokenness, of incompleteness, of loss and separation. In Jesus, God speaks to us directly. This is not some voice from on High, not even a burning bush or a vision; no, it is a man, one like us who was, nonetheless, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Men and women like us met Him, talked with Him, saw Him die – and rise again from the dead after three days. The Apostle Paul tells the doubters that more than five hundred people, including many known to his listeners, had seen the Risen Lord. He was not born in a Palace, and he didn’t wear fancy clothes, nor did he use complicated words and ideas – no, he talked to us as one of us. He told us something so simple that even after all this time we have trouble with it: we need to repent, we need to confess He is Lord, and we need to follow Him – and we’re saved. How hard is that?
It turns out it is very hard. Men have needed to see more than that. Surely there are conditions, catches, things we ought to do or else? The earliest Christians were Jews, and they took their Temple-style worship with them when they left the synagogues; used to solemn ritual, they kept it. Many Christians have done so to this day, and as one whose Church uses incense and icons, I am not going to say anything bad about it, because it all helps me worship; but I know it is an additional extra; something God-given, to be sure – but if I never saw an icon again, it would make no difference to God’s love for me.
It is to that love we all respond. Jesus told us to call God “abba”, which is, in the Aramaic, something akin to “Daddy”. We can have all sorts of dressing up games with Daddy, and we can be safe because we know Daddy loves us. It is that sort of child-like faith Jesus tells us we need.
In this world of sin and sorrow, we cannot but be fearful, not least at the moment, for our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land and its neighbours, and I hope that if we have a few dollars to spare, we can give something to one of the many charities which are doing the Lord’s work among the oldest Christian communities in the world. At the first Christmas time there were many families suffering from the brutality of a tyrant called Herod, who, like all such, abused his position and authority, and for what? Whatever earthly pleasures he may have had, he has left a name which is a stench in the nostrils of history, whereas the son of Mary, the wife of the carpenter from Nazareth, has the name above all names, at which every knee should bow. In His name, perhaps especially at this season, we should give something to those refugees treading the road that he and his mother and St Joseph trod.
From Neo and myself, warmest greetings – and may the peace and joy of the Christ child be with you now, and forever.