Suffolk’s most senior Church of England clergyman, The Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, writes about the Christmas season - a very different occasion this year - and the 'extraordinary lengths' people have gone to in helping our communities this year.

Christmas is God getting physical with us.

Each Christmas we celebrate the extraordinary event of God becoming a human being.

The one who is beyond time and space, the creator of everything there is, became a person and lived in our world.

God getting physical, being born as Jesus. Born to Mary, in an animal’s shelter in Bethlehem, more than two millennia ago.

And this year, so different from all the years we can remember, we long to be physical – to be with one another without distance, without masks, without anxiety.

So Christmas, the celebration of the most incredible event – of God coming to be with us as a physical human being – in 2020 is going to be very strange, and not very physical.

We cannot meet up like we are used to. We cannot be with friends, colleagues and family in the ways we did last year, and all the years before.

No physically meeting up for the usual round of parties, dropping by to visit, meeting up for a meal.

Yet being with each other, being physically together, is what we humans are made to do – made by the God who came to be physically together with us.

We know what an incredible difference it makes – being with people we like, who care for us, who lift our spirits, who we have fun with, who are important to us and we know we are important to them.

Family, friends or colleagues, whoever they are, being with them makes such a difference to us.

And we want to be able to be with one another again, just as we were until nine months ago.

We want everything to be better, for the virus to be defeated by vaccinations and cures, for the appalling pain and suffering the world has experienced to be ended.

We want the grief and hardship that has been inflicted on our own communities, and on so many of us, to be over.

Which of course is why Christmas happened in the first place.

In a mysterious way beyond our human understanding, God wanted just the same thing – for the world to be better, to be healed, to be comforted, and an end to everything that brings suffering.

And just as we want to be physically with the people we care about, so God wanted to be physically with the people he cares about – which of course is everyone. To show us the way, to open up a different way.

And that way was not to make pain, suffering, anguish, grief, disappear.

Instead, being with us, God showed us in Jesus how we are to be with each other.

To be caring and compassionate, to look after each other and especially those who are least able to help themselves.

To see that in God becoming human, he has made every human being utterly precious.

And of course through this pandemic this is what has been happening. People have gone to extraordinary lengths to care for one another, to reach out with support and practical help.

Health workers and carers have gone to extraordinary lengths to care for everyone who is sick.

Scientists have gone to extraordinary lengths to use their skills to find a vaccine, and so many unsung heroes have gone the extra mile.

We have been living the meaning of Christmas these past nine months. And because we have been living Christmas, we can now begin to see a way through this time to a better time.

We will all bear the marks of grief, hardship, and suffering, but we do so looking forward, trusting in the God who got physical to be with us, and who is with us now and always.