This year, Christmas is going to look and feel very different to others. Although the vast majority of us will no doubt do our best to enjoy the festivities (especially now that university students will be able to return home), for some it will be a sad and painful experience as they contemplate Christmas without loved ones who have sadly died during the year because of the coronavirus or other associated issues. Which is why the Church of England’s Christmas campaign ‘Comfort and Joy’ is so aptly named, because although the title comes from the traditional Christmas carol ‘God rest ye merry gentlemen’, its essence is to be found in the Bible which speaks of a God who so loved the world that he was prepared to step into it, in the person of Jesus Christ. The baby born at Bethlehem was therefore God’s one true light, ‘the light of the world’ (John 8.12) who shines not only into the darkness of our world, but also our hearts and minds, and brings us life – life in all its fulness (John 10.10). This comes as no real surprise to the believer because as John so wonderfully reminds us in his Gospel, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of men’ (John 1.4). The nativity story therefore reminds us that however dark the world might be, God still loves and cares for us. It is this knowledge that the Bible describes as good news and which provides us with so much ‘comfort, hope and joy’ as we celebrate the fact that in Christ, God is with us.
The ancient Jew also believed that God was with them, for deep within the Temple there was the menorah, a golden lamp with seven branches which burned oil from evening to morning. Although several of the outer branches were allowed to burn out, the central branch was always kept alight as a symbol of God’s presence.
I know that many people like to celebrate Christmas by decorating their houses with Christmas lights and decorations, but in this most particular, peculiar and stressful of years, I would like to encourage as many people as possible to place a ‘candle arch’ in their windows, as a little act of prayer and blessing for their neighbours, families and friends, to remind us all that although this Christmas period may be different – the meaning of Christmas is still the same – that God is with us.
May I take this opportunity on behalf of my family and the parishes I represent, to wish you all a very Happy Christmas (full of comfort and joy) and a peaceful (coronavirus free) New Year.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2.14