Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Christmas message from the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon

Image is something which troubles many people. Some feel themselves not to be a ‘complete’ person unless they wear the latest must-have item of clothing, unless they have the most up-to-date mobile phone, iPad, iPod or whatever gadget advertisers tell them makes them complete. Pardon the pun, but I’m sure you get the message.

More worrying is the fact that some people, particularly some younger people, find that the world’s obsession with the ‘perfect’ body-image, which some just don’t have, makes them feel inadequate, unlovely and, much worse, unlovable. More than that, it drives some into depression, mental illness and some even to self-harm or take their own lives. Whilst the image we project is important, it is a moral scandal when pressure from others risks costing anyone their self-esteem or sense of self-worth, let alone their well-being.

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The concept of image lies deep in the Christian story begun at Christmas. Jesus is, according to the apostle Paul, the image of the invisible God. Fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, St Matthew tells us that Jesus is Emmanuel, a word which means ‘God with us’. And Jesus himself, according to the evangelist John, told his disciples that, having seen him, they had seen the Father. So, if you want to know what God is like, you need do no more than examine the life and teachings of Jesus. In doing so, we discover God as just, compassionate, loving and filled with hope.

Importantly for us, we also read in scripture the theory that we are made ‘in the image of God’. In other words, you and I, if we are to understand what it is to be truly human, need to recognise our capacity, potential, and even the responsibility to bring justice, compassion, love and hope to others.

However you celebrate Christmas, spend just a little time reflecting on that word ‘image’. If you are fortunate enough to receive gifts, and some of them seem designed to improve your material image, perhaps you might also reflect on the image of Jesus, the one who lies at the very heart of Christmas. Just as he reflects the image of God, could you try to be the image of the Father too in the way you live your life? There’s no better image to project.

I wish you love, and peace and goodness.

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