Thursday, June 13, 2024

A Christmas message from the Bishop of Chelmsford

A Christmas message from the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell

LAST year I wrote a little book called Walking Backwards to Christmas. I had needed some persuasion to write the book. After all, isn’t this the one bible story that everyone knows? What else is there to say about it? But when I came upon the idea of telling the story backwards, not only did this provide a new angle, I also discovered that it gave the story a new ending.

A story usually ends with the consequences of people’s decisions and actions. The backwards Christmas story made the ending the decision itself and the motivation behind it. It was about why people did the things they did, and not just what happened afterwards. This, for me at any rate, shed light on all sorts of interesting bits of the Christmas story and put them centre stage: Joseph’s incredible decision to stick with Mary even though he only had the evidence of a dream that what she was saying was true; Herod’s terrible decision to wipe out everyone under two in order to destroy the Christ; the wise men’s decision to follow a star and abandon their charts; Mary’s decision to say yes to an angel.

In life we all have to live with the consequences of our decisions, and from time to time all of us will look back with regret at the times we acted selfishly or hatefully or just failed to hear the message that was on offer or take the risk of backing a dream.

The Christmas story gives us a chance to reflect on these things. It is a painfully beautiful human story; and the story of God inhabiting human life and shaping a vision of what it is to be human that can then help us in all the decisions that lie ahead.

So a good question for Christmas is simply this: despite what may or may not have gone wrong in your life and all the pressures and challenges you face, will you listen to a dream, follow a star, and obey an angel? Deep down most of us know what is right, and know what decisions we need to make. Christmas can be a time to put down our excuses and with Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men and women everywhere, say yes to God and yes to God’s vision for the world.


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