Christmas Thoughts from Dr. Rowan Williams

“A lot of people, not just the young, sense that society, government or media are giving them the message that they are surplus to requirements, a drain on resources. Older citizens can feel this pretty acutely — not to mention the disabled or those with mental health problems. Their cry is: “Who can be trusted to look out for me? Who guarantees that people like me are not forgotten?”

Christmas is always a time for thinking about how we respond to the needy. But I think that in today’s climate we should be thinking about some of the deeper issues too. My belief as a Christian is that the event of the birth of Jesus marked a uniquely new moment in understanding what “belonging” might be.

The Christmas story is not just about the birth of a very good man. As it’s been read and understood across the centuries, it’s a story about God deciding that he “belongs” with human beings — all human beings, but especially the ones who most readily feel left out. We all recognise the shepherds and the wise men around the crib — but we don’t so often recognise that shepherds in those days were not cuddly figures of folklore; they were listed among the classes of people who couldn’t be expected to keep their religious obligations properly and were likely to be a bit threatening to town dwellers. And the wise men are magicians or astrologers, slightly fishy figures from the point of view of a strictly religious Jew of that age, not part of the Chosen People.

In other words, when God turns up in the shape of a human life, he doesn’t go to the obvious people, the religious or the respectable. He heads for the edges of society, as if to say “You’re not forgotten” to those most likely to feel like outsiders.

And Jesus in his adult life does just this again and again — which means that those who seek to live as friends and followers of Jesus must also be ready to be found in the company of people who fear that there’s no one there to speak with them or for them. Their job is to create a sense of belonging, a trust that there is always someone who has a stake in the well-being of even the most troubled and troublesome — someone for whom it matters desperately that they are cared for, rescued from destructive and self-destructive lives, given a hearing and an opportunity.

Finding ways in which we can “belong” with those on the edges of things does mean taking some risks — as Jesus did. The birth of Jesus is only the start of a life in which God’s own action in the words and deeds of Jesus gets mixed up in the world of risk and suffering, and finally in a terrible and unjust death.

God’s love is to be found where people take that sort of risk — where they let people living in suffering and pain and injustice know that they too belong to one human family, that they’re not forgotten; and that God never deserts men and women in their worst times.

It may be hard to feel this for yourself — but the job of Christian believers is to act in such a way that this sort of love becomes credible. Where it isn’t credible, the chances are that believers aren’t really living out the message of faithfulness and belonging.

So the Christmas story matters because it tells us how and why everyone matters — how and why everyone has the right to feel they are not any longer outsiders, embarrassments, problems, but brothers and sisters in one family, all invited by God into his friendship.

Wherever people — whether they call themselves religious or not — work for that kind of belonging, I’d want to say that the work of God in Jesus is going forward. This is part of what the great event in Bethlehem made possible.”

Source: London Evening Standard

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