Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Christmas message from the Bishop of St Albans

People have many words to describe their babies, some kindlier than others, some just meaning baby, some quite different, some tongue in cheek. There’s cherub, nipper, bairn, brat, imp. I’ll stop there.

Earlier this year I spent some time with a young couple who had just had their first baby – a little boy they had named Aaron. For weeks before the birth they had been preparing by decorating his bedroom, buying clothes and toys. They were deeply moved and in awe of the new life that had been untrusted to them. They spoke of their hopes for his future as he grows up as part of their family.

What struck me was that twice they described him with another word altogether, calling him ‘a gift’.

The events of the first Christmas, nearly 2000 years ago, also focus on the birth of a child. This was the young Mary’s first child and she must have also been moved with love and wonder as she cradled Jesus in her arms. He too was a gift. As St John puts it ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son’.

Still today this tender scene of Mary’s joy and wonder has the power to move even the most cynical and hardened among us.

Mary’s selfless love is a world away from some of the depressing scenes that we saw on our televisions and newspapers recently. On ‘Black Friday’ people were, at least in some cases, literally fighting each other to get hold of the best bargains in the shops. On one occasion Black Friday even resulted in a black eye for one of the unfortunate bargain hunters.

At a time when the Christmas festivities can seem empty and meaningless – especially for those people who are suffering or grieving – we can rediscover its true essence by practicing generosity. Responding to the gifts and generosity of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. In the words of Jesus it really is more ‘blessed to give than to receive’.

Even small acts of kindness can divert us from the selfishness and greed which are always close at hand. Offering encouraging words, listening for a few minutes to someone who is lonely or helping a neighbour in need can change us as well as the other person. Such selfless acts of love can redirect our energies and they have the power to rekindle hope and bring light where there is darkness – for the giver as well as the receiver.

So this Christmas, let’s rediscover and reaffirm the true spirit of the season: generosity.

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