As we celebrate Advent and Christmas this year I hope and pray that there will be moments of awe and wonder, gratitude and celebration as we engage again with the Advent hopes and the promises of Christmas.
And yet this season also contains other stories. September 2nd, a Turkish border Guard picked up the body of a three year old refugee, Aylan Kurdi. Aylan and other children in his family had drowned in the sea near the town of Bodrum. The Turkish newspapers called it “washed up humanity”. The image was picked up around the world prompting individuals, this diocese and nations to respond. Over the next few weeks we saw the largest movement of people across Europe since the Second World War.
“The Light shines in the darkness” Jesus was born into a world as dark as ours. Shortly after his birth, King Herod sent ruthless soldiers to assassinate every child under two years old – Jesus escaped by the skin of his teeth. He kept on escaping for the next thirty years. In the end they got him for where Herod’s sword failed, Pilate’s hammer succeeded. As he died the land was covered in day-time darkness, it was a though heaven itself was saying, this is the most dreadful day of all.
The message of Christmas dares to proclaim that it is here when darkness is at its deepest that we find light and hope. God took evil things, hatred, fear, violence and revenge, and he used those very things as the raw material from which to quarry our salvation. So the power of God is seen in symbols of weakness and vulnerability, in a manger and on a Cross. In these enduring symbols, we find power kept in check, power handed over, power utterly controlled by love.
One of the great Christmas titles for Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, assuring us that God is no distant spectator to the anguish of our world. As we turn to him in prayer and worship, we know that he understands from the inside. God shares our sufferings, and transforms and redeems them too. Light always dispels darkness, it is its very nature to do so, this baby in a manger is the light of the world.
These wonderful things of meaning and truth and God himself are not only at the centre of our world, but at the very heart and centre of our personal lives. It is all captured in the great Christmas prophecy:
The People that walked in darkness have seen a great light, light has dawned upon them, dwellers in land as dark as death, for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and his name will be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God Prince of Peace.
The Right Reverend David Williams, Bishop of Basingstoke