Christmas is the time of the year when the general population acknowledges the fact that we clergy actually do some work. ‘This must be your busy time, bishop or vicar,’ people say.
And of course, it is true – though not so much as for the many who work in the food and entertainment industries, or for people like my late father-in-law, a butcher for whom Christmas meant three weeks of being at work long before dawn and staying late, often into the night. (He did do better in tips, though.)
Despite all that, I really look forward to Christmas in almost the same way I did when I was seven years old.
I look forward to it as a Christian …
Because the Christmas story speaks of Jesus Christ coming to bring peace to the world; that God loved the world he had created so much that he sent his Son to share its life and to give his life as a way of re-establishing a relationship with God.
I look forward as a husband and a father ….
Because our family gathers – this year my son and his wife have come from their home in Sydney, Australia to spend Christmas with us – and we can have some good family time together.
I am lucky. We are lucky.
We are lucky because there are many people in the world who will not be sharing such a positive experience this Christmas.
Here in Lincolnshire, there are many people who will be alone this Christmas, some of whom will be homeless, hungry and cold.
There will be some people in hospital over the Christmas holiday. My wife is a nurse, and in the past I spent many Christmas days in hospital when she was on duty and – though no one would want to be there – I know that staff and visiting families will be making a big effort to make the day as special as far as is practically possible.
There will be some critically ill and dying in our hospitals and hospices this Christmas, and our hearts go out to those patients and their families at this time.
And beyond the United Kingdom, there are those who are caught in a living nightmare this Christmas:
- Driven out of their homelands by vile murderers who preach a perverted version of Islam and destroy anyone or anything that gets in their way;
- Exploited by ruthless people smugglers who don’t care if their victims perish in an increasingly dangerous sea, or when they get to what they consider safety;
- Penned and humiliated by some of the wealthier nations in the world.
There are no easy answers to the complex problems which face our world – and I am neither a politician nor a defence expert – but we can remember that the experience of the refugees and victims of our world is closer to the experience of the Son of Man, who himself was a vulnerable baby and a refugee.
Jesus and his parents suffered at the hands of tyrannical rulers – first, of Caesar Augustus and secondly of King Herod who ordered the murder of all first-born sons.
Mary and Joseph were like so many we have seen on our television screens this year: a frightened family on the road, fleeing for their lives and trying to protect their vulnerable child.
Jesus Christ is closer in experience to the refugees of our world than to those who, like me, might fall gently asleep in front of the television during the Downton Abbey Christmas Special.
God comes to all of us at Christmas (safe and vulnerable; rich and poor alike); but as we discover later in Jesus’ life, from those of us who have much, much will be required – not least, in our cases, an hospitable and generous heart.
I wish you all a happy and a peaceful Christmas.