By the time this magazine drops through your letterbox in early February, the Christmas season will be somewhat behind us. I’d like to encourage you, however, still to live in the spirit of Christmas, of gifts given, and of the potential of who we might be when loved and redeemed, as our year continues. We face a period of uncertainty as the Trump presidency becomes a reality and as we work our way forward towards leaving the European Union. Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing — it can be fruitful, as it asks us to work out for ourselves those things that we hold of central importance in our lives, and that, in turn, can help us to find better priorities by which to live our lives. Please, though, go through this process in the spirit of generosity that is inspired by Christmas, of the message that we are all deeply valued by God just as we are. Lent, of course, approaches, and has its own theme of stripping down and discovering what is essential, what is right for us, but this is not a thing in its own right: it’s all about being prepared to celebrate what Easter will bring for us — new hope, a fresh start, the power to live a re-aligned life with passion for the betterment of all. Let us work to find a better way forward for our lives, both individually and as community, and commit ourselves to the greater good.
I write this letter at the end of a week of surprises, the biggest of which was the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. By the time you read this, we may have a better idea of what a Trump presidency will entail — my own hunch is that, a bit like Brexit, Trump’s Brexit+++ will remain somewhat undefined for a while yet. What is clear is that within the USA, people can hold quite differing views, and what is more, be quite startled that others take the differing view to theirs seriously; this reflects our own country (by which I mean the UK & NI)’s double take and puzzlement at the outcome of the Brexit vote — both London and not-London, even now, find it hard to recognise each other as fellow citizens, a split that continues in parliament and even in the cabinet.
Of course, not all surprises are unhappy ones, but perhaps the best of surprises contain something to disturb us, that shakes our complacency, even if the surprise is very good. This could be an unexpected promotion at work, or a shared glance across a room that leads to falling in love, but the surprise that I want to point to in particular today is that of the surprise of Jesus. This is the heart of the message of Christmas that the longer nights draw us inexorably towards — that God touches our world, and in doing so fundamentally changes who we are and our priorities in it.
Be surprised this Christmas season. Build bridges, not walls, with your families and neighbours. Seek out those that are different, and listen and learn from them, welcoming them into your lives. Be blessed in giving and not receiving. Welcome the Christ-child, and be challenged by the adult Jesus.