Who knows what life will be like when you read this! Life in 2020 has been one of constant change and constant uncertainty, along with a good number of nasty surprises. Who would have predicted this year in November 2019? I am writing in early November 2020 as Lockdown 2.0 is in its early days, but there is also a silver lining to the cloud as we are hearing news of a possible vaccine for COVID-19.
We are approaching Christmas in a year when most of us feel fed up and exhausted and anxious about what the long winter might involve. The coming months might seem like an uphill struggle we don’t want to face. The Christmas message of the baby Jesus, the light in the darkness which the darkness can never extinguish has never been more needed.
In the run up to Christmas this year, I have been thinking a lot about Mary the mother of Jesus. The first Christmas, like us, she had to walk a path that she wouldn’t have wanted to face. God called her, through the angel Gabriel, to be the mother of his Son, Jesus. But for Mary, this miraculous baby would mean bearing a child as an unmarried teenager in a society where that would have provoked raised eyebrows, questions and worse. She had a massive amount of courage to say those famous words: 'I am the Lord’s servant… May your word to me be fulfilled.'
Mary, though, did not face this challenge alone. Gabriel, when announcing that she was to bear the baby Jesus, said to her: 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.' Mary had a seriously big and tough calling to face, but she did not face it alone. God would be with her. The Spirit of God inside her and the power of God outside of her. This was Gabriel's explanation of how Mary was going to bear God's Son, but it would also have been a great encouragement as she faced the unfaceable before her – God was there with her.
Indeed, Mary had the privilege of taking a part in God's plan to not just be with Mary, but to be with all his people. One of the other titles which this baby Jesus would have is 'Emmanuel' which means 'God with us'. God wanted to be with us, his people. In Jesus, God came to dwell as a human among humans. And through his life, and particularly his death, Jesus' mission was to make God's presence possible for everyone. The way God was with Mary was a one-off, but Jesus' life and death made it possible for God to be with anyone and everyone by his Spirit, if they put their faith in Jesus and received his forgiveness.
So this Christmas, as we face the seemingly unfaceable, God offers us the gift of being with us. Being with us as we face the storms of this winter and of whatever the future may hold. That was what that first Christmas was all about - God with us.
I am not sure how we will be able to celebrate Christmas as a church at St. James or even in our own homes. Will we be able to see our families and friends? But the church building does remain (as I write!) open daily for private prayer. So I invite you to pop in and spend some time through prayer to invite God to be with you this Christmas.
May you know God's grace and peace at this time.
David Spence, Associate Minister of St. James the Great, South Leigh & St Mary's Cogges (November 2020)