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The Rector The Revd Rob Farmer writes:
The parish had just begun a children’s choir. Eight year old Meg was so excited about singing for a service the following week. After the service of the week before their debut, she pulled on the sleeve of one of the servers and said that she wanted to whisper a secret in their ear. Her secret? That she was going to sing at next Sunday’s service. Obviously this was hardly a secret to the adults, but to this beautiful child who was so excited about her ministry, it was her special secret. And she couldn’t keep the secret - she had to tell everyone and anyone she could.
Good news begs to be announced, even if it is a secret. So much of our Christmas celebration is about those who announce good news - the angels, the shepherds and we ourselves. All the heavens and the earth can’t keep secret the divine Son’s birth - it begs to be announced.
One of the gospels for this season relates the annunciation to Joseph about the divine indwelling in Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is fitting that Joseph is a central character in one of the Christmas gospels, for Joseph shows us some of the deepest significance of the mystery of the incarnation. Joseph’s response to the annunciation of divine indwelling, is obedience to the divine command: ‘he took his wife into his home’ and ‘named him Jesus’.
More important than the fact of Christ’s birth is the meaning of the birth: Jesus saves us from our sins and is God with us. What began as an announcement about birth ends as a proclamation of our salvation. Moreover, Joseph’s righteous behaviour shows us how salvation comes - by being other-centred, by loving as God loves us, by being obedient to God’s commands. Even at Christmas we are reminded that joy and new life require gospel living. We need to die to ourselves and give ourselves for the good of others.
At this time of year, one way we commonly experience dying to self is by putting the needs of others ahead of our own. Reaching out to others doesn’t depend on social, economic or religious status. It simply depends on us recognising that Jesus came into the world to dwell among us. Jesus isn’t choosy - he loves us all, infinitely.
And that is what the word Jesus means in Hebrew: Saviour. Jesus came to save us from our sins. He came to love us, even if we don’t return that love. This is the incredible self-giving and graciousness of Jesus. Truly this is what this festival is all about: God with us in this Son born at Christmas - this Son who is named Saviour.
But our Christmas celebration, as I hinted above, is not merely coming together for a joyful liturgy; we must also live this mystery. Christmas is an annunciation of divine indwelling in all we are and all we do: in our family gatherings, gift-giving, and our special meals together.
Of course this time of year everyone is looking forward to and expecting Christmas presents. Children stand on tiptoe awaiting the arrival of Santa bringing new toys. Even those with limited finances hope to find a way to exchange gifts with those they love. Our gift-giving should only be, though, a mirror reflection of God’s unfathomable generosity towards us.
Christmas is not primarily a time of presents, but of Presence. No gift we human beings can offer can compare with God’s gift of divine Presence made visible in his Son. It is the gift of God indwelling that enables and encourages our own generosity to each other.
Our own gifts to each other bring happiness and joy, but this can be fleeting. Soon the toys are broken or discarded because the new video game is outdated, and the new clothes are worn out. But the gift of God’s Presence endures forever - a Presence God enables us to offer one another all year round.
In all this we are really announcing that God dwells within and among us. Our own obedience to God’s will, as did Joseph’s obedience, comes out of God’s prior annunciation of divine presence. God acted selflessly in giving his own son to be with us and to save us. Christmas is an annunciation to us of that divine presence and asks of us the same response of obedience.
With best wishes for a peaceful and blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.
Your parish priest and friend,
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