A Christmas Message from the Chaplain
And (Mary) gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2.7)
How familiar these words are, as is the manger-scene that rises in our mind’s eye year by year as we recollect the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Yet I am surely not alone, especially this Christmastide of 2018, in seeing that precious family scene, which we cherish, jarred by the heartbreaking images of refugees from war, homelessness and hopelessness, seeking shelter in inhospitable places after wearisome, long treks with uncertain outcome; or of those mourning the loss of their babies and young children during the desperate attempts to cross the Aegean and Mediterranean seas in unseaworthy vessels. It literally ‘brings home to us’ and makes us contemplate afresh the ground realities surrounding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. God’s Son was born as a frail, human child into a simple human family, ‘not in a royal house or hall’, as a well-known hymn by Edward Burns says, ‘but in a stable dark and dim’. Joseph and Mary had wanted a better place in which their son could come into this world, but there was no other option offered, as Luke makes clear: ‘There was no place for them in the inn’. The need for the family to subsequently flee by night to Egypt in order to escape the evil designs of King Herod on the child’s life can equally not be simply attributed to God’s master-plan of salvation. Why did God take into account the death of so many infants below the age of two, we would have to ask?
The harsh and even cruel realities surrounding Christ’s entry into our world can, however, help us to better comprehend why God made the ultimate choice of joining his lot with ours. Because we have disfigured and continue to disfigure our God-given humanity by our sin, God became one of us, taking our flesh and blood, our life in this world, even our temptations (Hebr. 4.15 – ‘one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin’) and our destiny. In his birth, life and death we can discover God’s great love for us in showing us the way back to our true humanity of walking in fellowship with God. God in Christ offers us the way to respond to God’s love with our love for God. And this love will be reflected in our love for others.
When we look again at the story of Christmas without the romanticizing overlay we can recognize the bright glow shining forth of a deeper truth, of humanity as God designed it to be. That night there were shepherds guarding their sheep; they saw this light and hastened to the stable. And having seen the child and heard his story, they could not but make it known to all around. There were the wise men who undertook an arduous journey following a star in order to pay their precious tributes to this little child in a stable. Their story is remembered and told to this day as a paradigm for the light of Christ reaching the furthest corners of our world and being humbly received also by those of great learning and high status. And then we can imagine the unmentioned ordinary folk who offered shelter and hospitality to the refugee family in a foreign land.
God relies on us humans to tell God’s story: to bring hope where there is despair, to bring succour where there is need, to bring comfort where people are sorrowing, to bring healing where there is brokenness, to bring liberation out of bondage, to give courage where there is weariness. May each of us this Christmas discover anew the joy of being God’s agent in sharing this Good News through prayer, through reflection, through our words and our actions.
We have had a full year. November was a particularly busy month. On 11 November we in St. Thomas Becket honoured another memory that goes back 80 years before Armistice Day. This was the day when we commemorated 180 years since the consecration of our beautiful neo-classical church building in the Zeughausmarkt. Together as a community we marked the day with unmitigated thanksgiving, even though this building was badly damaged during the Second World War. For this reason I chose two of the Bible readings and the Psalm that were used on 11th November 1838 when this church was consecrated by the Bishop of London. On this historic day for our church I used the beautiful Communion silver that was presented to the church by Merchant Adventurers between 300 and 400 years ago and used on 11th November 1838. The communion silver is otherwise on permanent loan to the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte. Our remembrance thus reached back beyond that of Armistice Day; it included it of course; and it pointed to the duty we carry for the future within the remembrance of Christ’s death and passion in the Eucharist. We are united across the centuries in this sacred tradition.
November also contained other significant activities and events. Following our Remembrance Day thanksgiving, there was an excellent Arts Society lecture by Jon Cannon from Bristol Cathedral on The Secret Language of Sacred Space. Our Bazaar and Benefit Concert were once again purposeful and highly successful. The Exhibition, is another highlight in the context of our 180th Anniversary celebrations. It taught us a lot more about our church than we perhaps previously knew and will strengthen us in being present and engaged in the public square. In all this I am grateful and thankful for the excellent team work, the focus and the community solidarity.
Friends, it is in the spirit of our commemorations and the sense of growing together spiritually in all our activities and achievements this year, that I give thanks to God and pray that the same spirit will guide us through 2019.
I close by quoting the full verse from the hymn by Edward Burns with wishes for a blessed Christmas in the peace and love of God, our Father, of Jesus his incarnate Son and the Spirit which stirs and prompts us.
Tell of his birth at Bethlehem
Not in a royal house or hall,
But in a stable dark and dim:
The Word made flesh, a light for all.