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Christmas and All That

Posted by Stephen Birkett on

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders; and He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Isaiah 9:2, 6–7

What do these verses mean to you?

For me, they are strongly associated with the atmosphere of Christmas services in Anglican churches great and small as they form part of the traditional programme of 9 Bible lessons and carols which I attended countless times while growing up in England. These associations range from the pomp of priests’ robes and echoing of readers’ voices to favourite carols to snow, mince pies, mulled wine and…

Wait a minute, what has all that got to do with the message of these verses?

Not much, right?

You see, I did not even believe in God at the time when I was forming those special memories. So when I hear or read these warming words again, my first response is based on the drama and other sensory impressions of related childhood experiences; and even my second response is to think of the triumphant ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah, which set parts of these verses to music. Then I start thinking about the choice of Bible version, and how for these verses I really prefer the old King James version which I heard read out so often.

But though these warm thoughts and associations are all well unless I stop to think, they can completely distract me from the whole meaning of these verses, and even of Christmas – especially because it is hard for us to get our heads round the magnificence of that meaning and its implications for each one of us. With our Twitter-length attention spans, we tend to trivialise the message and diminish its significance among all the other swirling information and activity around us.

So, as we begin the season of Advent: what threatens to distract you from the core truth about Jesus? December is a busy month for many of us and the shopping malls are primed to seduce us with the tinsel version of what we are celebrate during Advent. 

Let us instead pause afresh to appreciate the amazing fact that Isaiah pronounced this prophecy around 800 years before the birth of Christ which he was describing; and that this Wonderful Counsellor, this Mighty God, was willing to come to earth in human form to light up our darkness and provide the way back to peace, justice, righteousness, love, wholeness, fulfilment and everything else that we so deeply desire.

And as we pause, let us look around and invite people to come to church and see for themselves what this is all really about.

Let us ponder on Christmas and what it means by:

  • Thanking God for the testimony of Isaiah’s miraculous ancient prophecy, and the amazing and costly mission of Jesus Christ to bring light and restoration to the world in person; and,
  • Asking God for a fresh revelation of what it means for us personally and consider inviting ‘pre-believer’ friends and colleagues to come to church during Advent.

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