Christmas Message from Epiphany

Happy Christmas from Church of the Epiphany

“…while they were there, the time came for Mary to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

As we celebrate the extraordinary festival of Christmas today, across the world women will be giving birth to baby boys and wrapping them in bands of cloth, just like Mary did with her baby – Jesus -more than 2,000 years ago.

This gets to the core of the wonder that is Christmas: the extraordinary meets the ordinary. Christmas speaks to us of this amazing, glorious celebration of the most unbelievable act – God becoming human. It is enveloped in the story of one particular birth, which is both extraordinary and ordinary – a story that mirrors the experience of generations of people of every creed, colour and background.

This week I was walking down G Street staring at the twinkly Christmas market near the Verizon Center and making my way passed the MLK library and the coffee shops wafting “holiday season” lattes from their doors. My eye was caught by the Macy’s Christmas window displays with Charlie Brown and his friends, accompanied by jingles piped from speakers in the windows. It occurs to me that this face of Christmas must seem so far from real life for so many people – in this city and across the world. Frosty the Snowman, Christmas gift wish lists and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer really are little more than a shop front facade. They may help us escape some of the harsher aspects of life, but they feel a long long way from what our TVs and newspapers tell us about the state of our world in this season.

What can these aspects of Christmas say to the peoples of the Middle East whose lives continue to be decimated by war? What can they say to the hundreds of people this year who have lost their lives to gun crime in America? What can they say to the victims of terrorist attacks? What can they say to the millions of refugees who have trekked across Europe risking their lives to find safety? What can they say to the vast majority of faithful peace-loving Muslims who feel so misunderstood and alone in the face of widespread Islamaphobia? What can they say to our homeless and unemployed friends here in DC?

The tinsel and the twinkles convey a Christmas message where life is suddenly rosy, where we can escape into the joy of Christmas cheer and forget about everything that is not okay with our lives and our world. They may offer good news, but it can feel as impermanent or illusory as the materials from which they are made, because they seem so disconnected from what we know to be true about the world.

Whilst the world of jingles and gifts may not offer much in the way of consolation or hope to a world engulfed in violence, where the value of life appears to have sunk lower than anyone thought possible, there is particular meaning and relevance in what the Church has to say about Christmas. For those of us who seek to follow Christ, the message of Christmas is one where the highest possible value is placed on each and every life. Because in the Christian faith we deal in particularity. God became human in a particular place at a particular time in history for a particular period, because God is interested in the particular situation of each individual. God is interested in you as an individual and God became an individual human being to prove it.

That is the point of the message of Christmas, this is a message that everybody can relate to, because God relates to each of us, knowing what it is like to be you or me, because he became just like us. Christmas is not about escaping the truth about our current situation, the God we celebrate at Christmas does not gloss over the difficult bits, He dives right into the mess.

The world of suffering that we see is the world into which God physically placed Godself when born as the baby Jesus. Born into the harsh reality of a people living under oppressive rule forced to flee their country and seek refuge somewhere else. This was 1st century Palestine and it is the case for many people across the world today. That is the world God in Christ inhabited, that is the world into which God comes again this Christmas, and in that truth I find hope.

Hope. Not because God can magic it all better. The wars will not suddenly cease, there will still be millions of refugees, and America will not rid itself of guns overnight. This is not temporary tinselly escapism. It isn’t that we have somehow to force ourselves to feel all happy and shiny, or to pretend even though so much about our world gives us cause for despair. It is a message that is more truthful about the state of our world. Into the darkness, the mystery of the Incarnation shines a glorious light: God became human so that God would know what it was like to be you and me, and the person on the street corner you pass every day on your way to work. In the words of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, which we sang at our Christmas Service last night: ‘tears and smiles like us he knew; and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness’.

Hope because if God knows what it is like to be you or me, we need never feel alone. God is with us. However bleak it gets, however much our fellow human beings may let us down, however afraid we might feel, we will never be completely alone. That is the message of the mystery of the Incarnation. Emmanuel: God amongst us. God is with us and amongst us, weeping with us, and sharing our joys now and forever. May the hope and light of the Incarnation be a comfort to us all this Christmas.

Merry Christmas and our prayers for you and your loved ones for a blessed 2016!

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