Letter to parishioners, 17 December 2021

Friday, 17 December 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

The great celebration of Christmas is just one week away. In the coming days there will be thoughts of presents, food, travelling and safe social interaction. But, in the midst of all that ‘stuff’, we also need to remember to make time for our spiritual journey towards the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation.

In the very familiar story of the birth of Jesus, that is the account we read at the beginning of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel, we read of a census, a long journey, a full inn, angels and shepherds. But how often do we dig deeper? How often do we pause and think about what was really going on some two thousand years ago?

We are told that Christ’s birth took place during the reign of the Emperor Augustus. This is, in fact, an important detail. Augustus was the first emperor to claim divinity for himself. Throughout the Roman Empire, Augustus was hailed as the ‘Son of God’. Despite this extravagant claim, we see in Luke’s gospel, the birth of the true Son of God, Jesus, the Christ. Whilst Augustus sat in pomp and splendour, it was the baby Jesus, born in a stable and laid in an animal’s feeding trough, who was hailed by the heavenly host.

We can be certain that access to Augustus would have been reserved for a privileged few, the rich and the influential. In contrast to that privilege and wealth, Jesus was attended by shepherds who had come in from the fields where they had been protecting their flocks during the dangers of the long night-watch. Access to the true Son of God is for the lowly as well as the rich and influential. Access to the true Son of God is a matter of faith and not powerful contacts.

Then, at the end of Luke’s account of the Nativity, we read that the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. The lives of those lowly men were changed for ever because they had come into the presence of the Son of God, an experience they could not possibly keep to themselves.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas, we will be reflecting upon Mary’s role in the great story of the Incarnation. We will be pausing to think about the reaction of a young peasant girl to God’s call in her life. We will be considering her demonstration of true discipleship as she said to the angel Gabriel: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

In just a week’s time we will be celebrating Christmas. No matter what the politicians may say, Christmas cannot and will not be cancelled. We will once again witness the outcome of Mary’s faithful response to God’s call, as well  as the joyous response of those simple shepherds. We will also be challenged to examine our response to God’s coming among us, not in the splendour of earthly rulers, but in the humility of Godly love for all.

The question for us is a challenging one: What difference will we let this celebration of Christ’s birth make to us as we travel into a new year? Will we be changed into the Christ-like apostles God wants us to be, or will we be putting all that ‘stuff’ off until next year … or the year after …  or the year after that?

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen