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.