Dear Friends and Colleagues in Ministry,
especially in the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery of the UCA,
but also to you if you’re not and read this by accident,
All God’s rich blessings be with you for the Holy and United Season of Adventpartieschristmasfeastingbeachsnoozingepiphanyreadingnewbookstravelcricketlongweekend and my prayers for the coming season of Backtoworkagaintogetreadyforlent.
Christmas is with us again, and unless you are one of our esteemed School Chaplains (who are already relaxing, remember THAT when next you meet one), you will be hard at work preparing to welcome friend and stranger, and to find fresh words with which to speak hope, peace, joy and love to the usual miscellaneous uncertainty of worshippers who will grace our sanctuaries over the Holy Christmas weekend. Interesting that while we strive to do our best in music, family engagement, fun, celebration, mystery, joy and above all a gospel that is truly meaningful to our perplexed times, we may have no idea where our listeners are coming from; what journeys they have made, what motivations drive or drag them, what questions nag at them, what baggage they carry as they follow the star. And we, too, who preach, may little comprehend in our own busyness, what dark doubts will resurface for us the moment we take our Boxing Day Break. Who are we to announce the Saviour? Who are we to try to speak this Word into this World? I approach the Incarnation of our Lord with due fear and trembling, wondering how I dare approach him at all.
Last Sunday I departed from the lectionary at Willoughby to share another Christmas story, the first words most poorly-advised new Christians read in the Bible: Matthew chapter 1, the Begatitudes. (And Zorobabel begat Abihud, and Abihud begat Eliakim, etc, KJV. To be fair, I skimmed past a few of the latter begats, and I did update the language.) The question being (I acknowledge Raymond Brown): Who was Jesus to bring God’s good news into the world? The illegitimate son of an underaged peasant woman, the descendent of tricksy, manipulative patriarchal God-wranglers; of broken, used, abused or refugee women; of a disappointing royal line, kings who inherited the land of promise and lost it again; and a forgotten set of nobodies in a corner of the globe successively subject to Babylonians, Persians, Romans and home-grown Fanatics.
And the answer would be something like: this is incarnation, this is ‘Emanuel, God with us’. ‘What God has not asssumed, God has not healed’ wrote Gregory of Nazianzus some little while ago (Epistle 101); so yes, God in Jesus assumed our rational though limited human intellect, but also our fragile human body, and our social, communal and environmental matrix of conditions and limitations; indeed he takes on our human history, our squandered opportunities and our generational cycles of domestic and political violence and disadvantage. The Word becomes flesh within our political traumas and nuclear threats, in a North Korean newsreader and a Syrian child. Matthew 1 should encourage us, we who preach, we who sing or play, we who splash glitter around to make the kids look vaguely angelic, or who bring a rather modest envelope for the Christmas Bowl, that our dodgy humanity is precisely the raw material the Word assumed among us in Bethlehem, A.D. 01, and which Christ continues to use to be embodied in the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery in A.D. 2017-18. Use your best; it is no worse than what Jesus used.
The world is still not so holy, but it is full of hope. May Christmas be a time of blessing for your families, your congregations and church agencies, your communities, and for yourself.
My Blessings and prayers at this time,