Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Christmas message from the Bishop of Norwich

Who would have predicted that 2016 would have produced so many surprises? At Christmas last year, if someone had suggested placing a bet on Britain voting for Brexit, Theresa May replacing David Cameron as prime minister, and Donald Trump becoming president of the United States, the odds would have been very long. 

There was a small fortune to be made. I doubt anyone made it. Pundits everywhere have been confounded.

But it’s not just in politics that we’ve been surprised. 

England’s rugby team has won 14 matches in succession. That seems like a modern miracle. 

Team GB won 67 medals at the Rio Olympics, even more than in London four years ago. 

Leicester City, underdogs for years, won the Premier League, reducing Gary Lineker to his underpants on television. 

If that’s not enough, Ed Balls became the nation’s darling on Strictly Come Dancing. Did anything seem more unlikely?

“You couldn’t make it up!” That’s what I’ve kept repeating all year to my wife as one surprise followed another. 

She became so fed up with the phrase that I was given a final warning never to repeat it. 

Of course you could make it up, she said. But truth often seems so much stranger than fiction. 

When more than 80pc of his MPs passed a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn I thought he would soon be gone. 

Yet a few months later he was re-elected to lead the Labour Party, and with an increased majority. 

And at the beginning of this month another surprise –the Liberal Democrats won a by-election. 

I began to say “you couldn’t make it up” but stopped myself just in time before divorce proceedings began.

I must confess I don’t like all the things which have happened this year. But I’m rather glad the world has become a more surprising place.

I like surprises. At Christmas I like surprise presents.

Sometimes a surprise gift turns out to be just the thing you want even though you’d never thought of it. 

Christmas is about a surprise gift the world didn’t think it wanted or needed – the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem a baby was born in the outhouse of a pub to parents who were temporarily homeless. 

A few shepherds came to visit this young child. Shepherds were very low down the social scale, generally regarded as untrustworthy. 

They couldn’t perform their religious duties because of their hours of work, so they were often despised for not even trying to be holy. 

And yet these were the people to whom God chose to reveal himself. 

It’s days later that some respectable wise men, seekers after truth, find their way to the stable. 

Joseph and Mary must have been amazed. And frightened too. Everything seemed to be happening in a surprising, even chaotic, way.

The inn was full next door to the stable, but no one took any notice of this birth. 

King Herod heard a rumour that a king had been born. Like dictators in every age he was terrified at even the slightest opposition. 

He ordered all infants to be killed. Whether it’s in Aleppo or the Berlin Christmas Market, a callous disregard for life is characteristic of our age too. 

Joseph and Mary became refugees, taking Jesus to Egypt for safety.

Two thousand years later millions, even billions, of people around the world believe this child, Jesus, was and is the Son of God. Too often we think religion is to do with what we believe in our heads. 

But it begins in our hearts. Christians believe that God isn’t a theory but He comes to live among us as a human person. God does so because he loves us. 

The birth of Jesus reminds us that love is the most powerful force in the world. No matter how big a mess we make of this planet through war and conflict, 

God still loves us. He even thinks we are worth living among.

That’s the glory and wonder of Christmas, “You couldn’t make it up!” But it’s true. A very happy Christmas to you all.

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