Earlier this year I was sent a beautifully carved piece of oak. On it are inscribed the words, “This too shall pass”.
The words come from an ancient Persian story. A wealthy person asked a wise guide what phrase might be true at any time and in any place. These were the words that were offered: “This too shall pass”.
How we long for the pandemic to pass. How we wish that its ill effects on livelihoods and jobs, businesses and charities, relationships and abuse would end. Many Christmas plans are in disarray and many will feel great loneliness. How we wish to hug a loved one again and to share a happy meal with family and friends.
Slightly different words, “it came to pass”, are found frequently in the Bible, including when Luke introduces the story of the nativity in his gospel account.
At a particular time, in a particular place, Jesus was born. It came to pass. It’s a defining moment in God’s relationship with his people.
There is plenty of evidence that a man called Jesus walked the earth. His life and teaching, his death and resurrection, led those around him to recognise him as the Messiah. One of the names given to him, Emmanuel, means “God with us”.
It came to pass that Jesus lived and breathed, ate with the wrong kind of people, and healed those who others would not touch. It came to pass that he unmasked the hypocrisy of the elites and taught a new way of being God’s people.
At Christmas, we lean into stories of his birth.
Many of us will have stuck Royal Mail Christmas stamps on envelopes to post our Christmas cards. The second-class stamp features a Norfolk stained glass window from St Andrew’s Church in East Lexham.
It depicts the visit of the kings, or magi, to the stable in Bethlehem shortly after his birth. The scene is one of comfort and joy. Mary looks on her son, whilst seemingly tickling his toes.
Jesus points outwards; out to the world. He wants us to follow him there.
This year the Church has had to learn new ways to get out there. I have been inspired by the imagination shown in our worship together online and in the many acts of kindness to neighbours.
Very quickly our rural schools partnered with their churches to ‘Fill the Gap’, trying to ensure that no child would go hungry.
Throughout the pandemic, from Heacham to Gorleston and Thetford to Cromer, our church communities have responded with food parcels, medicine deliveries, dial-up sermons, craft and activity packs for children, drive-in services, outdoor messy church, small but intimate weddings and care-filled funerals and generally looking out for one another in their neighbourhoods.
In countless ways, we’ve got on generating light in our communities in Norfolk and Waveney during what for many have been dark and anxious days. We’ve discovered again that love lights up the world. Thank you for your part in sharing that.
We have also discovered that it is from the shadows that hope rises up. From the shadows of the stable in Bethlehem, hope emerged. Hope for the whole world.
We need to hold on to the gift of hope that we find in Jesus more than anything this year. It’s what brings us both comfort and joy.
I pray that there will be moments this Christmas when the nativity scene will draw you in to light up your life with love and fill you with Christ’s hope. This COVID time shall pass, but love and hope will remain.
God bless you and yours this Christmas.