Recently, I was made aware of an advertisement in Great Britain that normally ‘kick starts’ the commercial onslaught that seems to come earlier and earlier every year. The company involved, John Lewis, produced this video clip on YouTube entitled #ManOnTheMoon with a concluding caption “show someone they’re loved this Christmas.”
It seems somewhat ironic that a secular advertisement, which has no reference to the birth of Christ, should in its message convey the ultimate truth of what our celebration on 25 December is really all about. It is best summarised in one of the most often quoted verses from St John’s Gospel.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God’s love for human beings, with all our flaws and deficiencies remains the central theme as we ponder the events around the birth of Jesus Christ. And we don’t need to look far to acknowledge how seriously deficient and flawed the behaviour of some human beings can be!
Last month the horrific slaughter of innocent people in Paris in the name of a disfigured and corrupted religious ideology not only shocked France but the entire world. Previous to that we had a bombing in Beirut, the bringing down of a Russian commercial aircraft over Sinai, terrorist acts in Turkey and further carnage in Baghdad.
For all the progress of the human race in science and technology, for the capacity for human beings to excel in all fields of endeavour, in financial resourcing and industrial production, in sport and the arts, in agriculture and environmental care, in philanthropic acts and lasting aid programs to countries in need, there remains a fundamental problem – what motivates some people to engage in appalling atrocities against other innocent human beings?
Those who have embraced salvation in Christ know that sin is the problem; alienation from God and from others, and ultimately from oneself, and such alienation can lead to the actions we have recently witnessed.
For those who celebrate the birth of Christ as the coming of the Saviour, and embrace the Gospel, this annual observance provides the opportunity to be grounded once again at the very core of our being, to understand that the purpose of all humanity is to live in the knowledge of the love of God and thus to live peaceably with all men and women.
As the Christmas carol reminds us as we ponder the Child of Bethlehem, “the hopes and fears of all our years, are met in Thee tonight.” It is also important to acknowledge that Christmas is not necessarily an easy time for many people.
Those who are alone, those who are estranged from their families, the poor and destitute, the homeless – their plight is often disguised at this time of year.
While generous acts of charity by Church organisations and others provide welcome and temporary relief, it is not a long-term solution to their misery. Many of society’s problems are systemic and require structural reform that is not easily achieved in a world where personal success at all costs seems the benchmark for the aspirational man or woman.
During the great Jubilee Year of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis, perhaps a more merciful attitude in our own lives might be a good starting point to enter into the fullness of the Christmas season.
In our desire to compare ourselves to others and often in that process fall into a critical and destructive personal character assassination, we might do well to remember the totality of the mercy of God towards us, which is expressed in the vulnerability of a tiny newborn child in the most humble of circumstances devoid of any security other than being totally loved.
John Lewis challenges their shoppers to “show someone they’re loved this Christmas” by spending more. God spends much more in the gift of His Son, born for us, and born to die so that we might live. So in our Christmas celebrations this year let the Mercy of God be most prevalent in all that we do.
If we are estranged from family and friends, let that be healed by a gracious act of forgiveness and love; let our charity to those in need not just be a ‘one off’ to assuage our need to do something at this time of year, but let our self-sacrifice invade the whole year. And if we are in need of experiencing the Mercy of God, let us have recourse to the sacraments that provide for us real and lasting encounters with the Saviour Jesus Christ.
With my Christmas greetings to all in the Diocese,
Very Rev Peter G Williams