Christmas Greetings

Greetings all, This is traditionally a season in which we share our hopes and prayers for peace and joy, and I pray both for you and your families.

I pray for that peace – salaam (Arabic); shalom (Hebrew) – which is more than the absence of conflict. A peace that reflects a total wellbeing, inside and out, in our lives and in the world around us. These words reflect a holistic vision, unity, completeness in which all is well. It is a God-given peace that desires our human flourishing and the flourishing of His world. It is hard for many of us to imagine such a state, especially in a year like this one. Yet that is God’s longing, revealed at the start of time in the Garden of Eden, and I hope, again, at the end of world history as we know it.

It is, however, also revealed in the here and now, amidst the fractures, sickness and conflicts of today. It is demonstrated in acts of selfless kindness and compassion, care for the sick, the young and the vulnerable, tending and protecting the natural world, leading with wisdom, waiting with patience, serving loyally, worshipping faithfully, and in so many other ways. When we see women crossing dangerous borders to deliver food to child soldiers, men and women risking their lives to defuse violence, leaders defying their election prospects by resisting corruption, young people planting trees in the sweltering heat of the desert, or exhausted parents, teachers, and carers diligently looking after their children day by day…..we witness examples of the peace God intends for our world. It is a costly and sacrificial peace, and one that requires constant working out, moment by moment, day by day. It is a peace that often sits alongside suffering and pain – crying with those who weep, sitting with those who can no longer express emotion, standing in solidarity with those whose lives are not as they should be.

Extraordinarily, in such moments, we can also experience the joy described above. Joy is not just a feeling of happiness, wonderful though that is. It is a deeper experience of the goodness of God, the ability to see ourselves and others as God does, to glimpse His purposes, and know that all is well in that moment. In the Hebrew Bible, the word is simcha, appearing most often in the book of Deuteronomy – which lays out God’s vision for His people, to “rejoice in all the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the stranger in your midst.” (Deuteronomy 26:11).

Interestingly, joy (simcha) in the Hebrew Bible is shared, not something we experience alone. It is an expression of communal solidarity. It sits alongside hope, because the experience of joy, especially after a long season of loneliness, depression or loss, is a reminder that God is still present with His world. At Christmas, Christians celebrate God’s decision to reveal Himself in human form, to commune with humankind, to journey with us through the ups and downs, twists and turns of life. The Qur’an portrays God as the light of the world – a light that dispels the darkness, like a small flame lighting up the darkest of rooms.

In the Psalms we read “in God’s presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11), or as the Good News Bible translates it, “To commune with God is to experience true joy.” Joy is not wondering what tomorrow might bring, but gratefully acknowledging what today already has, and sharing that moment with others. I pray that despite the restrictions on our time together this season, recognising the challenges we each face day to day, you will know deep peace and joy – not necessarily the absence of conflict and hardship, but the ability to experience peace, joy and hope in the midst of them.

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