Bishop of Burnley's Christmas message
Often Christmas events are loud and lively – but we often think of the Christmas story as being the opposite of a loud and lively event.
‘Oh, little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie’, we say.
We imagine that first Christmas to be deadly quiet, a lost hidden away town of Bethlehem; a stable out the back all in the middle of the night, nobody around.
But actually, when you read the Gospel stories, they are busy with people. In St Luke’s gospel, it’s not just Mary and Joseph in the stable, there is also a big crowd of shepherds, perhaps with their sheep, and who knows how many angels.
In Matthew’s gospel there is an indeterminate number of wise men, again, who knows how many; perhaps with their advisers, perhaps with their camels. It’s a really busy story, it’s packed with people.
It always makes me think of those wonderful crib scenes that you sometimes see in churches in Italy or Spain or France.
They don’t just show the Biblical characters in the nativity scene, they show the whole community.
You’ve got fishermen out on a lake, you’ve got soldiers doing their exercises, you’ve got people preparing food, you’ve got farmers out in the field, you’ve got schoolchildren at work, you’ve got people lazing around.
It’s wonderful because it’s everyone gathered together around the crib.
Those scenes in those churches, they are not just good fun, they also tell us something important about the Christmas story.
They show us that right from the very beginning of His life Jesus was connecting people together, Jesus was forming a family in His name.
That really helps us to understand who Jesus is and what he came to do.
For Christians, Christmas is incredibly important because of who Jesus is; not just another baby, not just another human being worthy of a celebration.
No, Jesus is perfectly, totally human and also perfectly, totally divine.
In Him humanity and divinity meet and are connected, and because of that Jesus can join together our human life, with God’s divine life.
A joining together that was severed because of our sin.
Jesus, because he is both human and divine, connects us with the Father and as he connects us with the Father he connects us also with one another.
So a really good thing to think about over this Christmas period is, who am I connected to and who do I need to be re-connected to?
We can think about that with regard to the people in our lives.
This Christmas is being celebrated at the end of quite a divisive election campaign, that followed on from a very divisive, seemingly unending debate over Brexit.
I don’t want to exaggerate it or speak words of doom over our country, it’s not that we are a broken nation or anything like that, but there has been division in many homes and in many communities.
At the same time we are all human; we make mistakes; we fall out with the people we love; we ignore our neighbour; we turn a blind eye to those who are different from us.
Christmas is a great time to connect up anew with some of those people.
So who will you re-connect with this Christmas? It might be members of your family that you have not seen for a long time, it might be people who live next door to you, it might be just people who are different from you; who have a different coloured skin or live in a different part of town.
As Jesus connects us together at Christmas, so it’s a great time for us to think how can we be re-connected?
More challengingly we need to think also at this time, how can we be re-connected with God Himself?
When Jesus grew up, he spoke in St John’s Gospel, these wonderful words: “To know me is to know the Father.”
As we gaze into the crib and see that baby in a manger, we are not just looking at a human being, we are looking at God Himself.
As we gaze upon God we can see just how precious, just how loved we are.
In Jesus, God has come to share our human life so that we can share His divine life forever: that’s how much he loves us.
When we discover that love, we discover also a perfect joy.
So, I hope you have a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas as you re-connect with God and re-connect with your neighbour.