This Christmas looks to be one of the most anticipated we have ever had.
Household visitor caps lifted, enabling family celebrations to go ahead. Changes to incoming international arrival caps so more people can return home for the festive season. Unrestricted regional travel.
Allowing people to get together for Christmas has been a powerful motivation for communities to reach the double vaccination “freedom” mark! It means that Christmas will indeed be a time of great joy and celebration – perhaps more than ever after such a time of disruption and upheaval. There does seem to be a sense of real hope and expectation in the air.
How much more is this true as we remember the words on that first Christmas, recorded for us in Luke’s gospel, of the angel to the startled shepherds. Do you remember? “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Luke goes on to tell us how, having heard this extraordinary announcement, the shepherds travelled to Bethlehem to check it out and found it was just as the angel had said it would be. So, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”.
Even when he was a newborn baby, the news about Jesus captured people’s attention. As an adult, people were gripped by who Jesus was, what he said and what he did. You could not keep the people quiet. A familiar phrase in all the gospels was “the news about him spread everywhere”.
The easing of COVID restrictions is indeed wonderful news. But how much more wonderful is the news that the coming of Jesus brings!
Just as with the shepherds, there is so much to talk about. Sure hope. Real joy. Everlasting peace. The removal of fear. A confident future. Someone we can trust and look to, who we can rely on. Someone who is consistent. Loving. Real. Full of compassion and kindness. Who lifts the lowly and protects the weak and vulnerable.
Jesus is someone who is always working for our good, and never for our harm. Who forgives all our faults. Who calls us his sons and daughters. Who listens and who understands. Someone who transforms our life. Who stands by us even in our toughest times. Who takes away our darkness. Who can give us a fresh start with God. Who gives a real reason to say, “Happy Christmas!”
At this stage, even though we’re not 100 per cent sure what our Christmas services and outreach events might look like, we have a privileged opportunity to engage with our non-believing friends, family and neighbours of the good news that is for all people.
Therefore, in the coming weeks, will you prayerfully look for opportunities to speak of this great joy and hope that Jesus brings? Will you invite people to come to Christmas services with you, and to outreach events your church is working hard to put in place?
You could also give people a small booklet that explains the significance of Christmas. For example, I’ve recently read Rebecca McLaughlin’s Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Should Ask About the World's Most Famous Story. Rebecca answers four important questions that so many of our friends and family are asking: “Was Jesus even a real person? Can we take the gospels seriously? How can you believe in a virgin birth? Why does it matter?”
On that first Christmas, after meeting Jesus, the shepherds returned to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.
We rejoice at the lifting of COVID restrictions. We rejoice at being able to meet face to face once again with friends and family. But how much more should we rejoice and celebrate and share the good news of great joy that is for all people!
The Rev John Lavender is assistant director of Evangelism and New Churches.