By now you are probably well into your preparations for Christmas with the hope and expectation that this will be a very different Christmas from last year.
Our preparations as a Church focus on the idea of light. ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ In Isaiah 9, the prophet speaks of the joy that will come to a people that have known oppression and often been regarded with little respect.
When we think of Galilee we usually imagine the Sea of Galilee, but in fact Galilee is a region in the north of Israel that is of great importance today, but which was rarely a main feature of life in the Old Testament. It was outside of the main political events. The towns that became the location for so much of Jesus’ ministry barely existed in the Old Testament. Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, was founded by Jews returning from the Exile in Babylon. They were probably Jews from the Tribe of Judah, the House of David. They named their new town after the messianic hope that their family line carried. In Chapter 11:1 Isaiah writes: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.’
A branch in Hebrew is netzer, and the word from which Nazareth takes its name. This was the promise that they held to, that from their family would come the Messiah, the anointed one, who would save Israel. Matthew tells us of the return of Joseph and his family to Nazareth in Chapter 2:23 and says that the prophets foretold that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.
So the promise Isaiah brings, about a light dawning on Galilee, is the hope of God visiting the people feeling forsaken, powerless, of no importance. The people that walked in darkness were just existing with little real hope, but hope was coming. Light was coming. Darkness looks much the same today. And darkness advertises its existence so well that we don’t have to go far to see it. It engulfs 12-year-olds out with friends in Liverpool; people of all ages in the deadly waters of the English Channel; and so many, many more in all kinds of situations. At times we feel powerless to do anything about it.
Into this darkness comes a light, no that’s wrong, comes the light: the Light of the World. Of Jesus, John writes:
‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’John 1:4-5
So Christmas is the time when we celebrate the light that comes into the world because Jesus is the hope of all humanity. So I pray that this Christmas you will know Jesus’ life touching each of your lives, reminding us that the baby in the manger means eternal life for us.
Before ending this piece I must pay tribute to Robin Baker who has ended 16 years as Church Secretary. Robin has worked tirelessly and at personal cost to build the church. His eye for detail is remarkable and his ability to deal with constitutions and other areas of administration has blessed us enormously. Robin has a big heart for the Lord and has served our Lord unreservedly. We are very much in his debt and owe him heartfelt thanks for his ministry.
A very happy Christmas to you all.