Letter from the Vicar (January 2009)
“Happy New Year” is the traditional greeting at this time of year. But the world scarcely looks a very happy place, does it? 2008 didn’t turn out too well, did it?
Perhaps I should not be so pessimistic but the chances of 2009 being significantly better look slim. Such a pessimistic attitude has not always been prevalent. In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a very strong belief that year on year everything was getting better. Progress was the overriding theme of this era. The conviction that humanity was on an inevitable march towards perfection held until the devastation of the First World War. The twentieth century gave humanity a salutary lesson. Even advanced and civilized nations such as Germany, Russia and Japan could sink to the very lowest depths of inhumanity. In 1990 there was great rejoicing when communism crumbled and the Berlin Wall came down. But other horrors have arisen equal to those of the cold war and deep anxiety about the future permeates life for many people. And as well as conflict among peoples we face the unpredictable ecological effects of global warming. Alongside that the state of the economy appears distinctly worrying. And at a personal level life also seems filled with problems. Illness, psychiatric problems of various kinds, family and relationship difficulties, bereavement, money troubles, difficulties at work. All these and many other things challenge our personal happiness. So I’m sorry to say it, but our new year’s salutations ring a bit hollow.
For many all this makes belief in God a very hard thing to maintain. How can there be a God and how can he be loving and caring when the world seems to be going down the plughole? Well the truth is that belief in God and in his love for the world and for you and me was never and can be never dependent on everything going swimmingly! You could hardly say that the world into which Jesus was born was a better world than ours. The Roman Empire, though by and large it kept the peace, was in reality a massive tyranny. It is no accident that the Italian fascists and the German Nazis modelled themselves on the Romans. And petty tyrants like Herod ruled the roost in Judea under the overlordship of the Romans. The story of his massacre of the innocents is evidence of the horror that habitually affect humanity. Again, at a personal level, poverty, disease and early death abounded. Life was for many then, as now, “nasty, brutish and short”.
The birth of Christ, the Incarnation, is the entry of God into a world in which there was and is a great deal pain, suffering and hardship. The New Testament makes it plain that the coming of Christ does not immediately bring happiness. Rather what it does is to expose people for what they really are. When Jesus came into this world his presence scrutinised people’s failures and shortcomings, as well as their strengths. But it is also a presence that changed and changes people, it can renew us and redeem us. The presence of Christ is both penetrating and transforming. Christ reveals to us our inner selves. But he also shows how we can be saved. It may take a long time to receive the saving power of Christ. It may be a troublesome journey with highs and lows. We may be distracted on the way. We may even fall away. But Christ will not leave us alone, however hard our personal journey may be. And in the end we will come into the fullness of his presence and know that the only response is gratitude and praise.
So at the beginning of this New Year which, no doubt, will bring with it many troubles and sorrows, as well, of course, many joys and delights, let us resolve to keep our eyes turned to Christ. He brings real hope to struggling humanity, to a struggling world and he brings it to our own personal struggles so that we may be saved by his loving, penetrating and transforming presence.