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Advent and Christmas greetings to you all.
In popular perception, Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, of parties and presents, of eating and merry making. It is supposed to be a time of generosity, when you show your love for those near and dear to you in the giving and receiving of presents. It is supposed to be a time for families to get together and for goodwill to be found in abundance. It is supposed to be celebrated with eating and drinking, singing and laughter, shopping and parties, wrapping of presents and yet more eating. And...oh yes... Christmas is supposed to be white, made pure with a sparkling carpet of snow. This is how Christmas is supposed to be in the minds of those amongst whom we live and work.
However, the reality of Christmas is somewhat different. For many people the past year has been a difficult one with inflation, rising interest rates and a tightening of belts all round. Many people cannot afford presents for their children and are worried about putting food on their tables. Some people are deeply lonely while many are in conflict with their families and find them hard to live with. The Christmas card ideal of a merry Christmas is nothing more than a dashed hope for countless people in Middlesbrough and in the wider world.
The church has a story to tell about the hope and the reality of Christmas. The hard reality centres on a cruel Emperor imposing taxation on his people and demanding a census to be taken of an entire population. An unmarried pregnant teenager travels to her place of registration only to find there are no beds. She gives birth to a boy in the straw where the animals live. And then she has to flee persecution with her child and become a refugee in a foreign land. It is a story with a contemporary ring to it and it is a story earthed in the reality of human life.
However, in that desperate story there is also hope. Not the illusory hope of a Christmas card scene covered in glitter and good wishes, but a real hope. It is the hope that in the birth of the baby, God has come. It seems fantastical that God should choose to reveal himself to the world in the vulnerability of a baby. It seems a stupid idea, totally at odds with the values of the cruel world in which we live. And yet it is precisely because that hope was born in the midst of a cruel world that it endures to this day and sustains countless millions around the world. God is with us. This is the Christmas message and the hope that we carry around in our hearts. Let us take that hope with us and proclaim it in word and deed.
May the love and peace of Christ be with you in this Christmas season.
Revd. David Godfrey
An introductory booklet
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