Emmanuel

Life is fragile. Over the past two weeks, as a community, we experienced some horrendously difficult times; and personally, there were times when I simply sat and wept over the harrowing situations endured by my family and friends. Bereavement, suffering, pain, loss, brokenness, illness, bullying, threats, and loneliness. The trauma, at times, was unbearable. Life is fragile, yet, I am grateful for the support and comfort of close friends and colleagues, for our church family that wrapped us in their loving arms, and for those both near and far, that sent us messages of kindness and encouragement. Thank you for being with us.

To be human is to experience the fragility of life, and none of us go through life without enduring hardship and pain. Add to it the extra pressures of a global pandemic, and it is no wonder that we find ourselves under immense strain. Bodies have been strained, emotions have been strained, minds have been strained, relationships have been strained. Is there a single aspect of our lives that has not been affected? And the wider picture is that, by our greed and consumerism, our world is being strained. It, too, is breaking.

Life is fragile and we cannot ignore it, erase it, or escape it. So what is the answer? Is it to take a cold, hard line, and urge ourselves to deal with it and get over it? Is it to wallow in self pity, to point the finger, and blame ourselves for our own failings and failures? Is it to throw in the towel, to give in and give up, and let our circumstances swallow us? Is it to bury our heads in the sand and pretend it is not happening, either by running away, or running towards things that will anaesthetise and numb ourselves to the pain?

God says there is another way, and it is the way of Christmas. This season we celebrate God coming into the word, entering fully into our fragility. In the Bible, there is a name used for God in this context; it is “Emmanuel” and the name means God-with-us. But there is something vital, something deeper, and something very special we learn about God, and that is that God, in his very nature, is present within fragility and brokenness. As humans, we like our superheroes to be all powerful and invincible, not vulnerable. Jesus Christ did not fit the stereotype and his actions did not fit the pattern of the King that was expected; and to live, be hurt, despised, rejected, and ultimately executed, well…that just proved that he was not God, right?

But…the message of Christmas is that God did not come to save us “from” our brokenness and pain but “in” it. John, in his gospel, writes this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That vulnerability — being present in our fragility and brokenness — is described, by John, as “glory”. And the wonderful, good news, is that God’s glory can be present in us. God’s glory can fill our hearts and minds and enable us to see others as God sees them; to be God’s presence to one another; to be God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s mouth, and God’s heart to the world.

This Christmas, despite the pain and suffering that many of us have had to endure, I have been privileged to witness the glory of God shining through others. I saw it in Christmas hampers distributed to members of parishes to let them know that God loves them and that they are not alone; in food deliveries to the marginalised and rejected; in sitting beside someone newly diagnosed with a chronic disease, an arm wrapped around them and prayers offered; in cards made and signed by little children that were delivered to those in care homes across our parishes so that no-one should be without a message of love this Christmas; in messages of support by email and across social media to stand with those struggling with bereavement, illness, depression, and suicidal thoughts; in welcoming the lonely into homes to share with them the fellowship, comfort, and touch of other human beings; the list goes on. Oh yes, this Christmas, “We have seen his glory…”

Let me close with the words of the final verse of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and perhaps, this season, it can become our own, personal prayer:

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray,
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Immanuel!