Whatever lies ahead regarding Brexit, we cannot undo what has happened and life will never be the same again.
Over 2,000 years ago when an angel appeared to a young woman and proclaimed that she would give birth to the Son of God, her future changed for ever. The same was true of some shepherds on a hillside and astrologers from the East following a star.
There was plenty of dreaming about the future too.
It had begun hundreds of years before the first Christmas. Prophets painted pictures with poetry of a time yet to come – of peace and justice, and of reconciliation: wolves living with lambs, streams watering deserts, tools of violence re-shaped into ones for farming. The dream they dreamed was of transformation and all things being made new.
And then came the birth of a child, Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’
And the dream being realised was not of a white Christmas or a Disneyland ‘where dreams come true’; nor was it a consumerist dream of the perfect purchase or a lottery win. Rather the dream coming true was the promise of transformation rooted in forgiveness and generous love.
This is about replacing Christmas tree fairies with real angels. It’s about confected Christmas magic giving way to deep divine mystery as we begin to live the dream. Instead of the short-lived excitement of shiny wrapping, it’s about opening our hearts to the overwhelming love of God.
Because of the baby born in an animal shelter, life will never be the same again; and the future is full of hope. This is no wistful fantasy but a dream which has come true and is coming true.
Mary the mother knew that. She had seen the angel and heard the words of promise, and even when pain and suffering came, Mary held fast. When the baby grown to be man was brutally crucified it looked as if a dark nightmare had killed that dream of hope. Yet three day later Jesus Christ rose from the dead revealing God’s love as stronger than death itself. Truly life will never be the same again.
Here is love which knows of pain, hatred and opposition. Generous love which sees us as we are in all our brokenness and beauty and never gives up. The dream of light stronger than the darkness has come true and we are invited to join in. Even now we can change a narrative of fear and division to one of hope and love. A generous love which steps into the shoes of others, however uncomfortable; slow to blame and quick to be part of the solution, a love that refuses to make it only someone else’s responsibility. A generous love which holds back on kneejerk judgement posted on social media. A generous hope which draws us together and doesn’t push away those we see as different or with whom we disagree.
This year we marked the centenary of the Armistice and recalled the horror of the First World War. We have also marked the centenary of the beginning of voting rights for British women. The eminent suffragist, Millicent Fawcett, whose statue was unveiled in Parliament Square in April, once said “What draws men and women together is stronger than the brutality and tyranny which drive them apart.”
This Christmas let us dream of what reconciliation and transformation might look like in our cities, towns and villages. Imagine life if our interaction in word and behaviour reflected the certainty of hope, forgiveness and love.
That first Christmas, when King Herod heard of the birth of a feared potential rival he ordered the star-gazers to let him know when they had located the child. However, we are told in Matthew’s gospel that, warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, the visitors from the East returned to their country by a different road.
Life will never be the same again, but let us not participate in a nightmare of division, fear and condemnation. Rather let us return to the future by a different road, living the dream of generous love and certain hope.
Bishop Rachel’s Christmas video message can be watched below.