Letter from the Rectory - December 2020
Christmas is always a fixture in our lives and features large for weeks, even months, in advance. As I write, for the first time since the 1940s, it is unclear to what extent we’ll be able to celebrate with our families.
Many families have their own little traditions at Christmas, often inherited from the previous generation. My siblings and I used to stay with my mother’s parents in Somerset when we were children. Christmas night was shorter than most: the day started with the rustle of paper in the stockings strategically placed at the bottom of our beds; our grandparents had graduated to pillowcases. After church in the morning, lunch followed with turkey and Christmas pudding. We were never opened our main presents until the Queen had spoken at 3.00pm.
Christmas will be different this year. It follows a year in which many people’s lives have been turned upside down: to think that over 50,000 people might die from a virus in this country alone would have been unthinkable just a year ago; some of the elderly have been trapped in care homes without any physical contact with their loved ones; younger people have had to endure limited social contact with friends, whilst those studying away from home have been isolated.
We yearn for certainty and security, but life is much messier in reality. The event that we celebrate this December was also a much messier affair than anyone anticipating the arrival of the Messiah could have imagined: the God of creation, coming down to earth in human form, born to a young woman in a place designed for animal feed; and with his life immediately in great danger, having to flee to a foreign country.
There are too many refugees and asylum seekers today, escaping violence, persecution or hunger; none of them will be experiencing a traditional Christmas this year either. Yet the circumstances of the birth of Jesus remind us that God has a bigger plan, a better plan. Often, when we are in the midst of difficult times, that is hard to see that: it can feel as if God has abandoned us or that he doesn’t care. But, as John reminds us, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and one Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but will have eternal life’ (John 3:16).