As the end of term draws closer, children in Rugby schools are busy rehearsing their parts in Nativity plays as Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds or kings. Is the Christmas story just a seasonal entertainment for children, or does it have anything relevant to say to us in 2012?
The story begins with Mary, heavily pregnant, travelling with her husband Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the days before public transport. After walking (or perhaps riding on a donkey) for about eighty miles, they arrived to find that there was nowhere for them to sleep. The climate in Rugby is colder than that of Bethlehem, so it’s good to know that help is on hand for people who find themselves with nowhere to sleep in our town during the winter months.
Hope4, a charity set up by a network of Rugby churches, works with homeless and badly housed people, providing them with short-term help with food and basic facilities. Between December and March they register and refer homeless people to the Night Shelter, which is organised and run by volunteers.
This gives food and shelter to those who, like Mary and Joseph, have nowhere else to go. The Food Bank, based at the New Life Church, also distributes food to people who need it.
As soon as the baby Jesus was born, angels appeared in the sky to proclaim a message, rather like a heavenly form of Twitter.
The message was ‘Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace and good will’. We like to think there is a lot of good will around at Christmas, with plenty of hospitality and present-giving, but the news broadcasts remind us that the world is far from peaceful. How sad, in 2012, that the land of Jesus’s birth is currently a focus of bitter conflict, and that religion seems to divide people rather than uniting them in a quest for lasting peace.
The first people to hear about Jesus’s birth and to arrive at the stable were shepherds, some of the poorest people around at the time, rather than the rich and powerful people you might think would be the first to receive the good news. This suggests that our places of worship should be places where the least privileged people in our society should feel most welcomed. Churches are not social clubs for middle-class people, but places of fellowship where everyone should feel valued equally.
The three kings, or wise men, arrived at the stable two weeks later, although in Nativity plays we celebrate everyone arriving simultaneously! They got there by following a star, which they saw as a sign of great hope. What is your greatest hope for the year ahead? What star are you following? Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on the meaning of our lives, and on our lives’ journeys. Where will they take us in 2013?
For Christians, the Christmas story has a even deeper meaning than all this. Why not go to church this Christmas and hear more about it?
Member of St Andrew’s Church,