It’s unusual, to say the least, to find ourselves preparing for Christmas in the middle of a General Election Campaign - fairy lights and political banners competing for our attention. Depending on our perspective, we might admit to a little annoyance, either that the Election is intruding on our preparations, or vice-versa!
Of course there were many intrusions into the birth of the Son of God - intrusions often concealed by the sanitised images on our Christmas cards. There was the shame of being conceived out of wedlock; the disruption and journeying brought about by the Census; the political turmoil of the Roman Occupation and the paranoid King Herod; the lack of a suitable resting-place for the birth. But still he came.
There was no election as such, but the people did get the opportunity to have their say on his potential premiership when Pilate asked: “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” “Not him!” they replied. “Give us Barabbas.” They put him to death. But still he came.
And the rejection goes on. We endeavour to crowd out the Advent season with shopping, decorating, preparing and partying. Message upon message tells us of what we need for the perfect Christmas with no mention of him. But still he comes.
He comes to us individually, he comes to us as a community and as a church, not with the hollow promises of political party leaders, but as light in darkness, as living bread for the hungry and living water for those who thirst, as life-giver to those who will take up their cross and follow. He comes not asking for an X in a box that he might have power over us, but with arms outstretched to welcome us home.
Yes, the Election is something of an intrusion - but it serves to remind us that he comes today to be alongside us as we are, in all our confusion and uncertainty. That the choices we make for parliament are in no way disconnected from the choice we make for him.
And he will not be dismayed, for when the campaigning is over, even when the next government has fallen, still he comes. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.
May you find him anew this Christmas
As I write, I anticipate attending the funeral of my beloved 100-year-old Aunt. I say beloved, as I shall always associate her with happy childhood memories of fun weekends when my family went to stay with hers near London.
This is a time of year we associate with remembering, with All Saints and Remembrance Sunday featuring large. We may look back with sadness and gratitude on people who have died, and on a different culture whose passing we sometimes mourn.
You might recall those Sunday School Anniversaries that I hear about – tiers of benches as row upon row of children crammed onto a dais to celebrate the church’s children’s activities. Of course, there are reasons why Sunday School had been so popular. There were no Sunday morning sports practices then, no television or online gaming to compete with, playing in the street would have been frowned upon. In short, church was the place where all that happened was happening.
Remembering with thanks is good, mourning is natural, but the productive thing is to ask “if all that is gone, what is there that remains important for today, even though it might look different in today’s culture?”
Perhaps that’s where we might meet again this year’s theme of “What’s the Story?” For our life stories are likely to be underpinned by knowledge of God and of the truth and the values we learned in those church settings. And so we need to keep that knowledge alive for the benefit of those children yet to hear. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” His love and truth remain rock-steady in the changing winds of culture, life-changingly relevant to generations that have lost touch.
Our Junior Church therefore plays an important role, albeit that the numbers are not the same “as in the old days”. Other activities such as Open the Book are powerful in sharing bible stories with the children of today.
As we enter this time of remembering, we must discern through the cultural differences those things it is vital to preserve. And we must be re-energised to nurturing and developing them for today, finding ways of sharing our story.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn” – he felt for those who look back and mourn the passing of better times for God’s people – “for they shall be comforted” – there is hope!