‘Jesus speaks of the wonder of love’ - Bishop of Norwich’s Christmas message
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Are you one of those people whose Christmas preparations are largely complete by the beginning of December?
Or are you like me, a last minute Christmas shopper?
Panic sets in when Christmas Eve looms near. I always intend to buy presents in good time, but I never do.
The first Christmas had something of a last minute panic about it, so perhaps I shouldn't worry.
The story of the birth of Christ isn't one of meticulous planning and careful arrangements.
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Mary's pregnancy is unexpected. There's an unwelcome journey to Bethlehem for the census, and then trouble finding accommodation on arrival so Jesus is born in a stable. In human terms, it's a mess.
Jesus Christ enters a distracted world. We don't have to sort things out first before Christ is born.
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If there's domestic chaos in my festive preparations, the world this Christmas seems in an even bigger mess.
The tragedy that is Syria continues. In Egypt both Christians and Sufi Muslims have been killed in big numbers when in church or at their mosque.
Who knows what will happen in North Korea? Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are not on our television screens but have been devastated by war and conflict.
In Bethlehem itself tear gas has lingered in the air near Manger Square.
Here in Norfolk there are many ordinary families who are anxious, wondering if their jobs and incomes are secure. Too many young people in our country fear for the future when they should have hope.
The scale of the problems of the world seem out of all proportion to our capacity to influence them. We can feel helpless when we believe our lives are not under our control. So is there anything to celebrate at Christmas?
According to Google, the British are the most enthusiastic searchers for Christmas topics and themes of all the nations in the world.
Christmas can be marked by over indulgence and over spending, but Christmas is simply about the birth of a child. The birth of Jesus is a very small scale event, almost unnoticed in a back street in Bethlehem.
The saviour of the world is introduced to humanity without troubling the media of his day.
The Christmas story is tiny in human terms.
One of the ways we celebrate Christmas is to give toys to our children. A toy is something large brought down to child size. It makes the world manageable. A train set, that staple gift of fathers to their sons (usually for fathers to play with), is a small world in itself.
A child's doll is a person in miniature. A toy car replicates a powerful machine brought under a small person's control.
Toys are not pointless. They help children to understand and interact with the world around.
Our big world is reduced in scale. So it was at the first Christmas.
At Christmas God comes down to human level. It seems absurd that God should become a weak and defenceless infant living a human life.
Yet we know the power of children to change our world. The birth of a child reshapes the social life of parents. Everything is planned to suit the smallest member of the family. Babies have big authority.
And this is the way God chooses to reveal himself – in a child.
This child called Jesus still fascinates, draws billions of followers and speaks of the wonder of love.
He was born at a dangerous time in a messy way with confusion all around.
Even so, this was the pivotal moment of human history, and a third of the world's population now follows Jesus Christ.
When we realise that things are messy in our lives, it may be the beginning of our discovery of what God intends for us.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas.