This is the season when many of us will be singing the usual assortment of Christmas carols, ‘O come, let us adore Him’ being one of my favourites. The song speaks of an adoration of a Child in a manger, and I find myself reflecting on the birth of Jesus and the bold messages He came to proclaim and live out. It seems to me the central theme of Christ’s message was the coming of the Kingdom of God, and I find myself anchored to the question: ‘What and where is this Kingdom, and why does there seem to be so much confusion about it?’ The word ‘kingdom’ is found fifty-five times in Matthew; twenty times in Mark; forty-six times in Luke, and five times in John – that’s a lot of referencing! Clearly these statistics show the great importance of the concept in the teachings of Jesus. So, digging a little deeper, I learn many respected biblical scholars articulate that central to the Kingdom concept is a ‘Good News to the poor’ message.
The Gospel means ‘good news’, but to whom and why? This message is over 2,000 years old, so what makes it significant today? Particularly when today’s headlines signal a crisis of leadership, broken families and communities, devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, war and conflict, and a displacement of people. At times the problem feels bigger than the solution, but pause for a moment, because the optimist in me screams solutions are possible if there is a will to change things. I stand on a Gospel message filled with hope and faith and, by God at work within, I stand with a vision that all things are possible with and through Him. So, could it be that we need to again discover a clear and thoughtful analysis of what the Good News is, and how we can apply it to our lives today, such that the power to transform is revealed?
To see Christ revealed is not only to hear His message, but to do likewise – even if means acting in faith. Christ spoke to and advocated for the stranger, the woman, the refugee, the prisoner, the poor and the voiceless – all the people society has left behind. The Kingdom Christ proclaims assigns rights to every single being, because each one has value, worth and dignity.
So celebrating Jesus this Christmas is to celebrate a new Light that came into the world and, although many homes will be filled with joy, family and friends, for millions who are fleeing from conflict, a joyful home will be a distant memory at best. We are called, as people of God, to be a beacon of hope and to show that a decent life is possible. The refugee story resonates with Mary and Joseph’s story, who together set off on a journey 2,000 years ago, only to find that there was no safe place to make a home. Their journey had been a long one, and Bethlehem was full. There was no place for them at the inn. They could have had no idea how the events at the end of their journey would unfold: singing angels, wandering shepherds and travelling wise men came to visit their newborn Child. And the world was forever changed, because God had been born, as a human, to live among us.
I want to introduce to you a man named Celestin. He heard God’s call upon his life; he was to be a priest. Living in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he served faithfully, and was soon to be ordained a bishop, when his life journey changed dramatically. His bishop was killed by an armed group, and Celestin had to flee to another part of the country, walking for three weeks to reach safety. Now he lives in another area, where his ministry brings the light of Christ to others who have been forced to escape from horrific violence. The community in which he works as a priest is relatively safe compared to the areas around it, so it has become a sanctuary to many traumatised survivors of violence. Local host families show extraordinary generosity and kindness to newcomers, but their few resources are often already stretched. Working with Celestin and others in the community, Christian Aid is helping those fleeing violence to rebuild their lives. Its work ranges from providing agricultural training and food, plates and bowls to those that need them, to offering counselling and support to people who have witnessed and survived traumatic violence. The experiences of Celestin and his community might seem worlds away from the life we’ve known ourselves. We may never be touched by the same fear of violence, but the same sun warms us, the same stars guide us, and the same light can bring each of us out of darkness. This Christmas, communities like Celestin’s need a beacon of hope. The Kingdom of God has many beacons and we are part of the hope and light Jesus spoke about. With our practical action and solidarity of churches we can become part of someone else’s story of change and transformation. See http://www.christianaid.org.uk/christmas-appeal for more details.
The Church is God’s Project for the human race. The Church of God is what humanity is meant to look like. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us not only a new and transforming account of what God is like, it also offers us, of course, a new and transforming account of what humanity is like and, more than that, it tells us how to do it and makes it possible for us to do it. This Christmas, don’t just listen to the songs and the Christmas story, but find new and different ways to respond to the Gospel mandate.