As we approach this Christmas, the groaning of this world hangs heavy in the air. The unearthly smoke lingers, whispering of lost forests, animals, and human lives and homes. We breathe in a daily reminder of the dust from which we come and to which we will return. The good earth is dry and pulses with a heat that is beginning to frighten us.
All this can seem very out of step with Christmas, a kind of rude affront. And it is out of step with Christmas as we often think of it: a festival of gifts and eating, of joy in the goodness of life and of family. It is harder to celebrate in this way this year.
But these things are not, actually, what Christmas is about. Gifts and food, life and family—these are good things, of course, the gifts of the good earth God has made. But Christmas is not just about life in a good world, about creation; it is about redemption. When the prophet Isaiah looked beyond the horror of Israel’s exile in Babylon towards the coming work of God, the word that came to him was, ‘Comfort’. ‘Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God’ (Isaiah 40:1). That is what Christmas is about: the news of God’s comfort; the news of how God has come, the glory of the Lord revealed, a message of good news announced. We are reminded of this message in Isaiah’s words every Thursday in chapel at St Mark’s: ‘See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him. . . He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms’ (Isaiah 40:10–11).
This is what has happened with the coming of Jesus the Messiah into the world. It is what Christmas is about; it is at the heart of what St Mark’s National Theological Centre is about; and it is news that is as good to hear as the sound of rain would be today.
May your Christmas be full of joy and life, despite the challenges; but even more may it be full of the peace that echoes on after the sound of that great news: ‘Comfort, O comfort my people’.
Written by Rev’d Dr Andrew Errington, RTO Academic Dean.