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UPDATED MONTHLY: DECEMBER 2017
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One of the many stories Jesus told starts off like this: There was a landowner who
planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.
Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the
harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.
Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated
them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them.
Actually, it’s the Christmas story in another guise: God sent his Son. Like every
church leader, I’d love to see more Christ in Christmas but so what?
Think about it in terms of communication. Today, we live in a time of mass communication.
Bombardment by information! It’s always been part of our human being: ‘talktalk’
before that company ever existed. So when we try to communicate with someone else,
we hope they’ll respond, react. If they don’t, we try a bit harder. Maybe we speak
up, shout, shout louder. If an email or text doesn’t work, maybe a phone call would
be better. If we still don’t get through, and we haven’t given up, we could resort
to setting up a face-to-face meeting. Still no response? We literally have to end
up on that person’s doorstep. Isn’t it amazing how elusive we can be when we want
to be; and how persistent we can be when we want to be!
Back to Christmas. We human beings have always been an awkward bunch as far as God
is concerned. It’s one thing for us to turn our back on him. Nowadays, many of us
go a good deal further: we don’t bother to do even that because God’s not there anyway
to turn our back on! (If you’ve even started to read this column, well done. Many
wouldn’t even...bother.) As someone who not only believes in God but has God as his
business, you may forgive me for being understandably baffled at this state of affairs.
Nevertheless, I recognise that it is so for many in Britain today. (Many but by no
means all, it must be said: a puzzle as well, from an atheist standpoint!)
So what is God to do about it? His plan could be described as ingenious, bizarre
or just plain desperate; or maybe all three. It is just this: he sent his Son. If
people won’t listen to him by any other means, maybe they will listen to his Son.
So we believe that Jesus was born a human being just like everyone of us is born.
And in the most humble of circumstances: something true of most of humanity’s experience
for most of history. He wasn’t just a human being, though. He was God-made-man: what
we call the Incarnation. God became as we are: he ended up on our front doorstep.
No matter how elusive, how aloof, we are, God is just so persistent. He loves us
so much that he bothers that much.
We believe that Christmas, quite simply, marks the moment when God the Creator invaded
his creation. He entered time and space as we know them, he became as we are. And
his message is just as simple: I have come to you. Will you come to me? It’s the
biggest question ever asked of you and me. It’s the invitation to the most wonderful
relationship imaginable: friendship with God, life with God, for ever.
Last of all, he sent his son to them. How, do you think, that story ends?