LONELY planet. 149 million miles from small star, on edge of galaxy, rich and full of potential. Afraid (sometimes). GSOH (sometimes). Looking for long term relationship. WLTM saviour.
There are three great truths at the heart of the Christmas story. The first is that humankind needs help. On our own we mess things up very badly indeed.
At the end of 2015, that’s not hard to understand. Look around you. The news has been dominated this year by the migrant and refugee crisis in Syria.
Millions of people are on the move. There have been acts of terrorism around the world and on our doorstep: all of them man-made. We have polluted the world we live in. Humanity’s greed and selfishness is now affecting the climate and the weather in ways which will affect our children and grandchildren.
Yorkshire’s industrial base has declined further this year with the end of deep coal ministry and the redundancies in steel. We have terrible examples in our own communities of the way in which people hurt the innocent for their own gratification. The gap between rich and poor in our own country grows ever wider. Many families are fractured. Many are lonely. Many lives lack direction. Who can say we do not need help?
It takes real courage to face these issues. Christmas should be a time when we open our eyes and ears and see the suffering and the pain in the world. Instead it’s become a time when we distract ourselves with food and drink and gifts and pretend everything is fine. Consumption becomes a kind of anaesthetic to deaden the pain we see around us. We cover up our problems for a while and hope they will go away. But that will not happen.
The second great truth is that God really has come to help us. The name Jesus has a special meaning. It means “God saves”. The angel says to Joseph: “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The world of Jesus’s day was expecting a different kind of saviour. They were looking for a powerful king, a mighty general, a wise politician who would establish a new government. This is the kind of saviour people still seek today. Instead God came as a human child, born into an ordinary family. God came in humility and love in a way that everyone could understand.
God did not come to the rich and powerful but to the poorest shepherds, to the refugees, to the children. God did not come to establish a new government in a single place and a single time but to offer change and new life to every person in every place in every generation to come.
God became a person to demonstrate his love for the world. God became a person to show us the immense worth and potential of every human life. God became a person to show everyone on earth how to live well: to live with kindness and purpose and grace, to live for others.
Jesus was a real figure in history. He is not made up. He is not a myth. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an actual place. We set our calendars still by his birth.
Christians believe Jesus lived a perfect life. But the world cannot tolerate this much goodness and light. He was crucified in his early thirties. Christians believe his death has an immense meaning: through his death on the cross, humankind is set free from all that we do wrong, through his death we can be forgiven.
Christians believe that God raised Jesus from death on the third day. In his new life there is new life for everyone.
This brings us to the third great truth of Christmas. This story we tell has the potential to affect every human life, every family, every village, town and city and every nation on earth. This is history which changes us and history which can change the world.
Earlier this year, my first grandchild was born. His name is Josiah. When I held him for the first time, something inside me changed. My heart softened. My perspective on time changed. I became determined to be there for him if I could and to be the best grandfather I could be.
That’s a small example compared to what happens when a person becomes a Christian. Christians believe that the living Christ enters into their heart and life.
Change begins to happen from the inside out. There is new purpose and a new beginning. Christians don’t become perfect overnight (or ever, this side of heaven). But there is real change and the change inside begins to make a difference outside.
We start to join in God’s great change agenda for the world: to work for peace, for justice, to break down isolation, to care for God’s world.
At the end of one year and the beginning of another, remember these three great truths: humankind needs help. God really has come to help us. The story of Jesus has the potential to change every human life and to change this world.
A very happy Christmas to you and to your family.
Steven Croft is the Bishop of Sheffield @Steven_Croft