Tis the season for lessons and carols. In story and song we hear of God’s plans to restore all things through his Anointed One. Once again we delight in readings from the prophets who speak of his coming. Isaiah writes, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11: 1-2)
Once again we hear the angel’s word to Mary, the birth of Jesus in the manger, the coming of the shepherds, and the visit of the magi some months later. Once again we hear the story of the child being presented in the temple, and Simeon’s song of thanksgiving to God. “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people.” (Luke 2: 30-31).
Once again we hear of how the child grew up in Nazareth, and how he “became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favour of God was upon him.” (Luke 3: 40). And once again we note how these childhood narratives (in Matthew and Luke) give way quickly to the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee and then in Jerusalem.
This giving way is reflected in the second verse of that lovely Welsh carol, “All poor folk and humble.” It reads:
The Christ child shall lead us,
The Good Shepherd feed us,
and with us abide till his day.
Then hatred he’ll banish,
then sorrow will vanish,
and death and despair flee away.
And he shall reign ever,
and nothing shall sever,
from us the great love of our King.
His peace and his pity,
shall bless his fair city;
His praises we ever shall sing.
At the heart of Christmas is this great vision of a world made new through the mission of God in Christ. “This mission is holistic; its orientation is toward the redemption of the whole of creation… The Gospel is not just about the proclamation of individual redemption and renewal but the renewal of society under the reign of God, the ending of injustice and the restoration of right relationship with God, and between human beings, and between humanity and creation.” (para 43, Indaba Reflections, The Lambeth Conference).
May this Christmas be a season for re-dedicating ourselves to this mission. May our eyes look out to the world and its struggles. May our hearts be moved with compassion and our hands with generosity. May each of us consider an “extraordinary” gift to The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund this Christmas.
And as we look to the New Year, let us renew our resolve to learn more about the UN Millennium Development Goals. They include the eradication of extreme poverty, promotion of gender equality, combating HIV/AIDS, and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Let us commit ourselves to raising public awareness of these goals and to increasing public pressure on world leaders to make the achieving of them a priority.
May all our preparations for Christmas be enriched by reflection on those ancient words that speak of the coming of the Christ and his righteous reign over all the earth.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.