As we come to the end of 2022 my personal observation is that this year has been exhausting; and I think that would also be the observation of most of the clergy and lay ministers. It has been a hectic year.
Part of the reason for this is that we have been catching up on meetings, conferences and events which have been delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Lambeth 2020 was finally held in 2022, as was General Synod. A number of places celebrated 51st Anniversaries and 102nd Anniversaries, put back from their original dates. It also seemed to me that there is an increasing amount of regulation for churches and other not-for-profit organisations, with the implementation of these requirements not being fully done until after the pandemic.
There is also the exhaustion that affects us all because of the 24-hour news cycle. This year has seen some momentous events: the war in the Ukraine, unprecedented flooding in the south, the death of Her Majesty the Queen. All these great events have provoked profound grief and sadness. In previous times this news would be delivered in the morning newspaper and the 6pm news, and whilst important would only have been part of the normal rhythms of our daily life. Now the news, delivered via social media and 24-hour news channels is endless and all-consuming and can dominate our thoughts. If you are starting to feel depressed by all this, you are not alone.
However, all of this should not dominate our thoughts and actions, especially for those who claim to follow the Lord Jesus. We are not called to be people of despair, and we are not called to be passive in the face of the turmoil of this world. At Christmas, we turn our thoughts from the tumult of the times in which we live, to the eternal truths revealed to us.
Now, there is a lot of mythology around Christmas. The biblical accounts of Christmas say nothing about a stable or donkeys or three kings. But what they do say is that Jesus was born as a helpless baby, fully human, raised in a very human family. The New Testament writers see him as the Messiah about whom much is prophesied in the Old Testament. But there is much more going on. Jesus is not just a human messiah who will deliver his people by force of arms or political skill.
In the introduction to the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that Jesus “descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1.3b-4). So not only is Jesus human, but he is also divine, being God and Lord. John proclaims the same message in his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1) This makes Jesus special: he is born not only of Mary but also of God. Being human he shares with us all our joys and our sorrows; and being divine he can forgive our sins and give us salvation. So we do not celebrate Christmas in isolation: it is part of the story of Jesus that goes through to Easter and only makes sense with crucifixion and resurrection.
This means for us that there are eternal truths which are greater than the problems that we currently face. That in all the exhaustion and strife of our busy lives, there is something greater and timeless. The love of God for us is demonstrated at Christmas by his gift to us of Jesus Christ, in whom we have our salvation. So this Christmas proclaim the love of God, and show the love of God in all that you do. If you are blessed to be with family and friends at Christmas, enjoy your time with them. Instead of retreating to your room to play on the computer, give of yourselves. Give of your time and of your love.
But sadly of course there are many people for whom Christmas is not a time of joy. Our culture has made it into a celebration of sentimentality and material giving, and the baby Jesus is rather obscured. As a result Christmas can be very stressful for families, and not all families are safe places to be at Christmas. Others will be separated from their families and friends due to work or other circumstances: please pray for Defence members deployed overseas, and for emergency and health workers, and transport and retail workers who must work over the holidays. Please also pray for those in hospitals and prisons, and especially for those who are in hospices or dying elsewhere, and commend them all to the mercy and love of God. For all of these people, Christmas can be very tough going.
I will be spending Christmas on Thursday Island, and look forward to celebrating Christmas in this special part of God’s Kingdom. But, like most priests (and lots of people who are not clergy!) I am also looking forward to a period of relaxation after Christmas. It is good to rest and enjoy some time off, and I commend that also to you if you are able to do so.
And then we go forward to 2023. We tend to approach the New Year with a sense of optimism and anticipation; and in 2023 as we come out of the pandemic there is good reason for doing this. Travel is getting easier, and there are now few restrictions. As Christians, we are called to be optimistic about the future. And again, this comes back to our diet of 24-hour news. Look beyond the media feeds – there is a lot of good happening out in the world. Indeed, we are called to be part of that good: to work for justice, to show mercy, to be people of love. And we do this because we have a great message to proclaim: that our God, the God who is love, born at Christmas and risen at Easter, is the Lord of Life in whom all of humanity is called to salvation.
If at all possible, may you enjoy Christmas with those you love – and please remember in your prayers those who cannot do so. May you enjoy rest and relaxation after Christmas. And in the New Year, may you proclaim in your words, your actions and your love the great gift given to us: Jesus the Messiah, our Lord and God!
May God bless you at Christmas and in the New Year!
The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland
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