In many ways 2015 hasn’t been the best of years.
Terrorist violence in Europe and America as well is continuing on a huge scale in the Middle East and North Africa. Vicious persecution of religious minorities: people beheaded or crucified, raped or tortured, for no other reason than that they are Christians, or the wrong sort of Muslims, or Sikhs.
The enormous refugee problem, with thousands drowning in the Mediterranean and millions looking for safety wherever they can find it;
Parliament voting for an extension of military engagement into Syria;
Extreme weather events, with unprecedented rainfall and floods in north-west England just this month;
Child abuse and safeguarding cases, both historical and current, shocking us all and overwhelming the police. And, I’m sure, personal sadness or difficulties for many of you.
Can the Christmas story really speak into the brokenness of our world? Or is it just a bit of escapism, in the same vein as overdone shopping and parties, the new Star Wars film and whatever is on the telly over Christmas?
I would say this, wouldn’t I? But I really do believe that the message of God coming into our world, as a vulnerable baby, becoming a refugee, suffering hardship and persecution, relying on strangers for a bed, for the next meal, and ultimately for a tomb: God really entering and knowing our human condition – that message is exactly what we need to hear today.
Jesus Christ knows what we go through. He knows about bereavement, loss, betrayal. He knows about humanity’s enormous capacity for inhumanity. And when people suffer today: hunger, pain, loss, fear, confusion: he has been there and can be with us in that. And when we mess up and bring suffering on ourselves: he is there alongside us and also to forgive and accept us.
As I do my usual thing and visit a prison on Christmas morning I can reassure those men who have messed up big-time, that God can still see his image in them, that they can find forgiveness and peace, and start over again.
Christmas is about God being with us in the muckiness of life.
It is about him accepting us whoever we are and whatever we have done.
It is about hope and peace and a future that means something.
Jesus Christ really offers us all of that.
Have a wonderful Christmas. Know Jesus at the heart of it all.”