The Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, compares the change in Mary and Joseph’s plan for their firstborn to the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic, and God’s presence through it all in this reflection for Christmas day.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”. (John 3b-5)
How are your Christmas plans faring, I wonder? How did the plans of Mary and Joseph for the birth of their firstborn fare, I wonder? Whilst our Prime Minister has locked us down, the Emperor Augustus sent everyone out on the road.
As modern human beings, we love to feel in control. We have pushed death to the margins of life. Scientific endeavour leads us to believe there is a solution to every problem and a cure for every ill. We plan strategically and assess our risk. A tiny virus turned the world upside down.
2020 has been a dark year. We have mourned, lost loved ones, and been physically distanced from our own flesh and blood. For some, we have gone nowhere whilst being rushed off our feet. For others we have sat. And sat. And sat. And the doorbell has not rung. Human ingenuity has flourished. Life, love and hope have moved online in ways we’d never imagined. Culture has found new outlets, and scientists have become celebrities. Yet we know we have been living a half-life. The wave and the smile at the camera are not a hug from a loved one. The hug some long for will never caress them again.
As I write, news is landing of borders closing to stop the mutant Coronavirus spreading from our shores. In a matter of days, European free movement as we have known it comes to an end. We are boxed in. Shut up. And stare into a zoom lens wearing our ‘this is normal really’ expression.
The world is radically different from that in which Mary and Joseph trekked to Bethlehem. Radically the same, too. Viruses, and rulers, and powers and dominions beyond our imagining, wreak havoc upon our delusions of control. Into this world God came. Barriers and borders were broken down. Heaven and earth combined, and God and humanity were united in flesh and blood. God did not zoom in from afar, withholding physical presence to mitigate the risk. A certain risk that would lead to the cross.
God did not come into our midst in flesh and blood to sit with us in the darkness. Though God does that. God came into the darkness to transform it. The other side of Christmas lies Easter. Death transformed. Life renewed. Human powers subverted. Light overwhelming darkness. The feast of Christmas celebrates the flesh and blood coming of God in our midst to effect that transformation. It catches us up into the life and light that is for all peoples. I pray that in this Christmas of darkness you will catch a glimpse of that light, and bear that light, such that it might indeed be life and light for all.
Image: Ruy Albcrem/Unsplash
Published: 21 December 2020