For Christmas AD2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
This comes with warmest prayerful greetings for Christmas and with joyful thankfulness for our shared life in Christ throughout this year.
Sometimes a verse of scripture just ‘comes alive’: a verse that you have known for a long time, possibly, but that takes on a new reality of meaning and speaks deeply to you.
Such a verse for me has been words that we find at the beginning of St Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy: ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control.’ While we do not know the exact historical context of these words, it is clear that the apostle knew that the end of his life was approaching, an end over which he himself had no control – and yet he could still write these words! For ourselves, even if we sometimes feel we have no control over the circumstances around us, we are still called to these gifts which reside deep within us as Christians. ‘Power’ is the strength to remain faithful and hopeful through all things. ‘Love’ is the reaching out to one another in compassion and care. ‘Self-control’ is the aligning of our life with God’s Word and Will, even in difficult times.
At the end of this calendar year, we know that circumstances have not improved as rapidly as we first hoped, although of course the success of the vaccination programme has been a sign of great progress. But we are called to that ‘confidence in Christ’ of which St Paul speaks in these words to Timothy. And if those seem to be words that are not particularly related to Christmas, we might reflect that they are very close to the words which I used for my Christmas message last year: ‘Do not fear’ or ‘Do not be afraid’.
‘Do not be afraid’: in the scriptures that we read at Advent and Christmas, these words are spoken to Zechariah, to Joseph, to Mary, and to the shepherds. In the scriptures that we read at Easter, they are spoken by the risen Lord Himself to the first witnesses of the Resurrection. They are the words which signify God’s deepest message of love and care towards us, who are His people and His children.
Let us therefore approach the Christmas celebration of the Nativity with deep confidence in Christ, with power and love and self-control. Let us hear with joy the words of scripture, and let us receive with joy the sacramental gifts of the Eucharist. And let us approach the New Year with hope and faithfulness, recalling (as St Paul tells us elsewhere) that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sincerely in Christ, and with prayers for a blessed and peaceful Christmas