Making a difference
The world loves a celebrity. (Children - who is your favourite celebrity?) Certain names always seem to be in the news: David Beckham, Johnny Wilkinson, Russell Crowe, now Liv Tyler, one of the stars of the Lord of the Rings films. There is endless interest in what they wear, what their likes and dislikes are, how they spend their time – and no doubt how they’re going to spend Christmas. There was a radio programme the other day about the way in which celebrities dominate our newspapers, our magazines and our television programmes. It showed how there have always been celebrities – I imagine Nelson and Abraham Lincoln would have been celebrities, for example. But it pointed out that the way in which celebrities are seen has changed. Two hundred years ago, someone has said, when a great man – or woman – emerged, people would ask ‘What is God’s purpose for him or her?’ Now, they ask ‘Where is his press agent?’
In many ways Jesus has been one of the greatest celebrities of all time. Of course when Jesus was born there was no press release and no press agent. God had other methods – the star shining over Bethlehem was far more effective. But as with celebrities throughout most of history, people soon did begin to ask what God’s purpose was for this baby, born in an out-of-the-way village in a remote part of the Roman empire. What did God have in mind for this little child, whose birth was announced by angels, and who was visited by mysterious strangers from the East, bringing gifts for a king and a God?
We all know the story: Jesus grew up to be one of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers and workers of miracles; but also to show God’s power at work in the greatest miracle ever – to rise again from the dead. By bringing Jesus back from the grave God showed that he was ready to give the world no less than his own Son, to suffer and die for the sins of the world, and to show us all the pathway to a new and better life. This, then, was the purpose for which Jesus came into the world that first Christmas time.
But, we may understandably ask, what difference has it made? The divide between the Christian world and the Muslim world seems greater than ever – and both claim that God is on their side. Even in the Church itself, the divisions between the modernisers and the traditionalists seem intractable. The number of people who attend Church now in this country is worryingly low. I don’t want to get drawn into a debate about the effects of Christianity on the world. What I do want to do is to say that, despite the religious controversies that may buffet the Church from time to time, Christmas still has the power to change people and even to change the world.
For at the heart of Christmas, at the heart of God’s purpose in sending Jesus to the world, still lies God’s message of peace and goodwill. That message is so often swamped by the buying and spending, by the frenetic pace of Christmas, that we can easily forget that it is actually far more than just a tired cliché on a Christmas card. I want to mention three examples of the power of Christmas – two real, one fictional.
Christmas, then, can make a difference – to individuals and to the world. Peace and goodwill can be real. It may seem that it is taking a long time for God to work his purpose out, but it is happening, however slowly. And each Christmas brings us nearer and nearer to the time when, in the words of the hymn, the earth will once again be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.