Bishop Rachel’s Christmas Message to the Diocese

Published: December 20, 2021

In recent days the magic of Christmas lights, the beauty of singing and brass bands, and the nostalgic smells and tastes of Christmas, have all been a welcome antidote to a torrent of explanation.

There has been daily, almost hourly, explanation from medics and scientists regarding the omicron variant, and vital information about the whys and wherefores of vaccination. There is continuing explanation from the Prime Minister and government officials, whether around decisions relating to restrictions, or in response to questions about Christmas parties last year. Furthermore, many other media headlines are about enquiry and explanation, whether it’s the horrific death of children, or issues of agriculture or education, or debates and tragedies around refugees and asylum seekers. And just about every organisation, charity, and institution, continues to put out information and guidance to explain practice, process, and policy.

Across the diocese many of us will be involved in explanation, not only as we navigate the ongoing situation with Covid-19, but also as we grapple with words and images (and no doubt tea towels and tinsel, oranges and candles) to tell the story of the first Christmas. We will endeavour to explain the generosity of God in the gift of Jesus Christ, yet the truth is that this is inexplicable mystery.

Every year at carol services I am struck by the traditional introduction to the final reading from John’s Gospel, ‘St John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation’. It cannot be explained but it can unfold and enfold: ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).  

We cannot explain the cry of Baby-God in an animal feeding tough, or the appearance of angels to night-time workers, or the outrageous love of God who chooses to come among us, but we can long to be caught up in the mystery which cannot be quantified and which will never be defined by important information or even church statistics.

This Christmas, in all that is going on locally and across our world, my hope and prayer is that we might long for and be expectant for the mystery of God’s love and glory to overwhelm us. Forget any desire for ‘The magic of Christmas’, rather may we fan into flame a yearning for the holy and the mysterious, whatever our story or age.

In our attempts to be in control in the face of so much which comes at us, is uncontrollable, and provokes an array of thoughts and emotions, may the song of the angels break through the cracks of time.  Amid places of laughter, tears, excitement, and anxiety, may the mystery of God pervade our daily lives, with no explanation needed.

I pray that the glorious mystery of God captures us unawares in the familiar and the unfamiliar so that we find ourselves catching our breath as the shepherds did on that first Christmas night. And like the Magi may we be brought to our knees, not in exhaustion with the past months of our journey, but in awe that our great God of all creation chooses to be up close and personal, and comes to us in a tiny wriggling child.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing in our Life Together across our diocese. I wish you a Christmas punctuated with breath-taking mystery and wonder.

+ Rachel

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