A Reflection for Christmas

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8:00am Morning Prayer
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
8:30am Eucharist
12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Cathedral closes

A Reflection for Christmas

How Things Seem is not How They Are: Paula Gooder

Have you ever asked yourself why so few people noticed Jesus’ birth? Why, when the moment of salvation and hope, which had been so long expected, finally arrived, did it pass so many people by?

The answer I think is simple – because everything looked the same. The world was, apparently, exactly as it had been before: the Roman oppressors were still in power; there was no prosperity and harmony for God’s people and the wolves were not, as Isaiah had promised, lying down with lambs. God’s people were waiting for a dramatic and life changing intervention from God. Although few agreed on exactly what the Messiah would be like, they did agree that when the Messiah came everyone would know. The moment would be unmissable.

When Jesus did come it was far from the spectacular event everyone expected. Admittedly the appearance of ‘a multitude of the heavenly host’ singing would have lent a certain pizzazz to the occasion but the only people to see them were the shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flocks. As far as we know, no one else saw them. The most spectacular event at this otherwise quiet and unremarkable birth was observed by a handful of people in the fields outside of a small, insignificant village.

The angels’ song, however, points out that, barely noticed though this birth may have been, it was the moment for which God’s people had waited for so long. The prophet Isaiah made clear that when the moment arrived in which God intervened in the world, it would be recognized because of two things: God’s glory would be seen and there would be peace on earth. This is exactly what the angels proclaimed when they sang to the shepherds: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ In other words, the long awaited moment had come, the world had changed forever - even if it didn’t feel any different.

It is worth holding on to this truth through the seemingly never ending dark times of the pandemic we are in. In happier, less stressful times, it is easy to imagine that we know that the world changed for the better with Jesus’ birth because of the joy we feel or the justice we see around us. At happier times we can might feel the joy of Christmas.

But it is worth remembering that at the time of Jesus for most people nothing seemed to have changed. The world appeared as dark and as hopeless as it always had. At the heart of the Christmas story lies the truth that it might have looked that way to most people but as the angels revealed to the shepherds or as the star revealed to the magi, how things seemed was not how they were.

Hope had stirred. Love had been born. Immanuel – God with us – was in the midst of them. The world had changed forever, even if they couldn’t see it. This year let us hold fast to this with every fibre of our being – how things seem is not how they are. There is hope and love in abundance and God still is with us through it all, whether it feels that way or not.

Dr Paula Gooder is Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and a leading Biblical scholar.