Mr Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: "Watson, look up at the sky, and tell me what you see." Watson replied: "I see millions and millions of stars." Holmes said: "And what do you deduce from that?" Watson replied: "Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life." And Holmes said: "Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent."
Sometimes when we read the bible or hear it read, we try so hard to find the deeper truth that we miss the obvious, staring us right in the face. We are just like Watson, gazing up at the mystery of God’s word and missing the everyday truth of the gospel. And Christmas is no exception – at Christmas time we try and attend to the deeper truth of God Incarnate, Emmanuel, the Son of God coming to the earth and all that might mean, as a kind of protest to the commercial machine that Christmas has become, but we still miss the obvious.
At Christmas time we hark back to a moment in history, when something remarkable and miraculous happened long ago, imagining what it might have been like if only we had been there, and what it might be like when he comes again, but yet we still miss the obvious.
At Christmas time we attempt to say something about Christian hope, the deeper truth of God’s promise, that on the night when Jesus was born a new kingdom came into being. And these first days of God’s plan for salvation occurred in a humble setting in the middle of Palestine. In a dimly lit stable, God began the restoration of humanity. This new creation, the birth of God’s Christ, fulfilled an age old prophecy that began in a garden under a tree… where two people took their own path before God’s… despite all this, despite the rich tapestry of faith and tradition, despite the revelation, the life changing story of God coming to the world… we still miss the obvious.
None of these things, history, hope and the nature of Jesus are unimportant – in fact they are truly central to the Christmas story, but these things without the obvious are at best, just concerns for theologians and philosophers.
Christmas was never meant to be something that we only look back on, without somehow attending to the Christmas that is right in front of us. Christmas was never meant to just be about a miraculous night in Bethlehem, but was meant for the ordinary moments in our own lives today and tomorrow. The tent was the thing that Watson missed, but for many of us, the thing that is missing in our Christmas’ today are those things that are left unspoken of. Like the fact that there are family and friends that we love but see no longer, or the financial pressures that Christmas can bring, or the anxiety we feel when so much expectation is placed on making Christmas look and feel right, or the depression that some feel due to loneliness, even when in a room full of family. This is the obvious, and yet it is missed so often.
My father passed away 9 years ago, and each year since there has been a missing chair at the table on Christmas Day. It is at times like at Christmas we deeply miss those we love and see no longer. Amid the joy and merriment of the Christmas story the obvious that is so often missed by the world, is indeed the pain, and loneliness that many of us feel, in the Christmas today. And this reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus came not for accolades, gifts, nostalgia or tradition – he came for the broken-hearted, the lonely, the forgotten, the homeless, the mourning, the widow, the poor and the despised.
Jesus was born in a backwater town of no significance, surrounded by animals, adored by shepherds, cared for by a teenage mother embarrassed and despised by her culture for being an unmarried mother.
The message of Christmas is the truth that Jesus was born so that God could show how much he loves us. To say ‘I am here’, I feel your pain.
I will like you, watch loved ones die, I will like you, weep at the grave of friends, I will like you share in the hurt of the world when I walk to Calvary. God stepped into our world so that love could win, over the law, our pain, our loss and even our death.
The obvious truth of Christmas which is so often missed in the sparkle and glitter of the season, is that God didn’t come just for the privileged, the religious, the blessed and joyous, he came for those who hurt. The Good News of Christmas, and Jesus’ birth is that when we are looking up at the stars, or out at the world, wondering whether we are alone, we can truthfully say at all times, we are not. God is with us.
Prior to Jesus’ birth, the people of God had heard and read in scripture four words repeated time and time again. In the book of Genesis, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Haggai, God says to his people ‘I am with you’. At Christmas these words come off the page of scripture and into our lives – Jesus is God with us, then, now and always.
May you know the peace of the God child, as your Saviour, the one who knows you and loves you always. Amen
Revd Jeremy Putnam
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you, Do not fear, for I am with you;
The largest and most prestigious sports competition on the planet is about to get underway. The Olympic & Paralympic Games are the very best example of humanity’s inherent desire to compete and achieve; and this year the games are being hosted in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most beautiful, exotic and religious places in the whole world. I can’t wait.
What inspires me most is the stories that lie behind every athlete’s performance. Stories of overcoming the odds, of failure but finding the strength to try again; and stories of discipline and defeating inner demons.
There is another hidden story. Brazil is facing its worst recession in 100 years. The effects can be seen in the slums of Rio, Sao Paulo and Brasilia. Poverty levels and child mortality rates are high in Brazil, with an estimated 42 percent of children in Brazil living below the poverty line. As well as it being a time of political and economic unrest, the country is also trying to control the Zika virus. During the Games, the division between those who have and those who don’t will be all too evident, and it brings in to question who we understand as the winners and losers. But despite the shadows of Brazil's story there is something very special about Rio which shines oh so brightly. Christo Redentor. Christ the Redeemer.
Completed in 1930 and standing 30m tall a top of Corcovado, the statue is an incredible witness of Brazil’s faith. People speak of it as being a powerful symbol of hope, of compassion and reassurance stemming from the knowledge that the world’s pain is carried by Jesus with open arms on the cross. I wonder what it will mean for the Olympics?
I was delighted to read the prayer of blessing that Dom Sebastiao Leme used when dedicating the ‘Cristo Redentor’ in 1930. His words were:
“Christ wins! Christ reigns! Christ rules! Christ protect your Brazil from all harm!”
At the start of the Olympics Dom Sebastiao’s words seem particularly relevant, especially as we ask the question, ‘who will win?’.
No matter who crosses the finishing line I hope that the message is Jesus’ transforming and life-changing promise conveyed in that amazing statue, and more importantly, in His Gospel. For as Christians we live in the knowledge that the victory was His, is His and will be His.
I finish with one last thought. What would it feel like to have a statue of this size on a hilltop overlooking Truro, Liskeard, St Agnes or wherever you might be? In its absence, where is the great symbol of hope in Christ for our time and for our community? Is it the church? If not, why not?
May you know the victory of Christ in your life today. Jeremy
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.