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Bishop Richard's Christmas video Message - Transcript 22/12/2022

Hello everyone and welcome to this, the last video of the year, which I’m recording the week before Christmas.

Someone once said that John 1: 14, The word became flesh and dwelt among us, is the most important verse in the New Testament.  The rest is just commentary. We’ll be hearing it read at numerous services over the next few days, and its extraordinary claims can be dulled with familiarity.  One of the many unique claims of Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ the divine and the human come together.  He brings them together in a way that enables mere human beings to connect with God.

The accounts of his birth are gritty and revealing, not least because two of the gospel accounts include genealogies. The very thing that make yours and my eyes glaze over, would have opened wide the eyes of those who first heard it.  In a society that was rigid and patriarchal, they include women, prostitutes, and those born after adulterous affairs. 

Establishing your family line is revealing.  Many who start on the journey hope to discover, at least a link to someone important.  I’m just descended from generations of Hereford agricultural workers and small farmers, which is something I’m quite proud of.  In Jesus’ day family pedigree was really important.  Its why characters are often introduced as the son of, going back three or four generations.  A family tree was a bit like a modern LinkedIn or other social media profile – selectively honest!  Just as we might sketch over a bad career choice, so they would tend to leave out anyone in the line who disgraced the family. It would be like writing in your LinkedIn profile that you failed catastrophically at a particular job because you were incompetent, but managed to persuade the next company to take you on none the less. You wouldn’t do that.

This is the sort of thing that makes the accounts of Jesus birth all the more credible.  There is no historical airbrushing going on. The facts of his character and background give us confidence that he really understands the reality of being human.  The remarkable things he did, and particularly his resurrection, convince us he has the power to do something about it.

But there is something else that doesn’t come out very well in the English translation, ‘dwelt among us.’ The actual Greek is tabernacled – not a word we would use, but highly significant.  In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was the place where God was thought to dwell within the Temple. Even at this early stage in the Gospel narrative there are pointers to Jesus being the locus of God’s presence and activity in the world.

I’m sure John is intending to encourage us here.  If God can take up residence in a family line as dodgy as Jesus’ he can certainly come and take up residence in ours.  The message of Christmas is the message of grace. No human brokenness is too terrible that God can’t heal it.  No human sin too grave that God can’t forgive it.  No separation from God too great for Jesus Christ not to bridge the gap. Jesus Christ is the one who brings things together: God and humanity; our own fractured identities; our broken relationships.  He brings the human into the divine for it to be healed and restored.

Life is tough for many people this Christmas and the inevitable question is, how is this relevant? To a family sheltering in a Kyiv basement with no electricity, or to a family who can’t make ends meet despite two jobs.  We can make the message relevant by modelling the same alongsideness that Jesus demonstrated.  Christ draws alongside us, so we can do the same to others in need. Our parish churches are uniquely placed, rooted in our communities, to be a focus of this sort of action, not just ourselves, but in partnership with others of good will.

As we move into 2023, as we have received the blessing of Christ’s presence this Christmas, may we be so blessed to be a blessing. I wish all of you a very happy Christmas and a healthy and spiritually enriching New Year. 

+ Richard

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