A Christmas message of hope in a year of seismic change
Article written for Suffolk Free Press Article, 16 December 2016
Nicholas Crean, chairman of posh confectionary Prestat Finest Chocolates was asked by a US retail chain if his company would consider changing their Advent Calendar with a ‘Christmas countdown’ calendar covering just the last ten days. They thought it would be less confusing for people. Mr Crean reminded them that babies were born, not launched, not least the most famous One.
We’re a nation that gets Christmas, but then kind of doesn’t. Most probably have at least a vague idea that it has to do with a baby called Jesus, but the rest of the detail can be a little scant. Nevertheless, most people love to celebrate Christmas.
However, this Christmas feels a little different as it comes at the end of a year of huge social and political upset across the UK, Europe and America. Understandably, there’s some nervousness about what next year might bring–with no one really knowing what to expect. So, let me offer a bit of seasonal hope.
And it comes with the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago whose arrival remains as profoundly relevant today as it did then. The founder of Christmas was born in a time of national crisis and much soul-searching. A country’s socio-political system was thrown into chaos by Roman occupation. However, Jesus’ coming provides hope for the shattered peace of ordinary people. He grows up into a young man to connect the best of a people’s past with their present predicament and points it all to a better future - through himself - a time we now call Easter.
It’s such a strong, life-affirming message that it may just be why so much of European Christmas tradition still retains its Christian heritage in some form or other, even down to the colours: red, green and gold. Not to mention the giving of presents, trees, lights, Christmas puddings, mince pies, Boxing Day and, of course, the ever-present Poinsettia.
In fact, the first five letters of Christmas remain a constant source of hope in every age ever since those unsettling days in Palestine. Whether we are a Remainer or Brexiteer, a Democrat or Republican, Christ stays central to our reason for the season.
The inspired sacrificial love Jesus talked about all in his life, which continued through his disciples is not a bad pointer for starting to heal a divided nation, not least after a referendum or election. Admittedly, it’s not scientific or rational, but it does have a long history of working for good and bettering society. This kind of love is accepting, generous, forgiving, selfless, unifying. And I could go on.
Maybe God was onto something when ‘love came down’ at that first Christmas. Maybe he knew what wars, conflicts and political dramas lay in wait for humanity. Maybe it’s part of an over-arching plan to help with the complex challenges and moral decisions that face our nations and world leaders today and give a greater hope.
Whatever you believe, one thing is for sure, there’s more Christ in your Christmas than you probably think.
Andrew Stewart-Darling is Senior Pastor of Stour Valley Vineyard Church and founder of Storehouse Foodbank (Sudbury, Suffolk) Glow - Carols by Glowstick - a community carol service takes place on Christmas Eve, 6.30pm at the Delphi Centre.
If you’d like to help local families in crisis this Christmas, visit the Storehouse Foodbank Gift Shop.