A New Year message from the Bishop of Repton
PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 January 2017
A message from the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane, Bishop of Repton
Is it my imagination, or did Christmas start to arrive a little later in the shops this year? I seem to remember not so long ago going into a complete meltdown at the sight of Christmas cards in my local supermarket, arriving on the shelves in time to greet me on my return from my summer holiday in August. This Christmas it all seemed a little calmer.
All that preparation over so many weeks, and for some people months, means that it can feel something of an anti-climax when the ‘big day’ itself is over. By Boxing Day, the turkey is starting to look a little jaded, the Christmas tree is beginning to wilt, and we can’t wait to hit the ‘January’ sales which sometimes now begin before Christmas Day itself!
But in the Church’s year, Christmas has only just begun. Traditionally Christmas decorations aren’t put up until Christmas Eve as until then we’ve been marking the season of Advent – a four week lead up to Christmas itself. And then Christmas lasts right up until 6th January, ‘Twelfth Night’ or the feast of the Epiphany, when the Church remembers the arrival of the three Kings, the three wise men, at the stable in Bethlehem, travelling over many days to pay homage to the infant king. The three kings usually appear on our Christmas cards, complete with their offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but that’s really a little premature. They don’t turn up until January.
We exchange gifts at Christmas in imitation of the three wise men who brought their gifts to Jesus. And we exchange gifts to remember that God gave his very greatest gift to us – the gift of his own son. It’s easy to leave the baby in the manger until next Christmas, but the arrival of the kings in January reminds us that this baby won’t stay helpless and dependent on his human family for long. He’ll grow and mature in his understanding of who he is. He’ll become quite possibly the greatest teacher – the wisest person – the world has ever known. And then he’ll be put to death on a cross by those who find his teachings too radical, too demanding. And three days later he’ll defeat even death itself, leaving behind an empty tomb. Our year 2017 is such because it’s two thousand and seventeen years, or thereabouts, since Jesus’ resurrection. He literally changed the course of history.
That generosity shown by God, and picked up and imitated by the three wise men, is imitated by us too at Christmas. We exchange gifts. We eat together and share our food and drink. Many people give up their time to help at shelters for the homeless. But the infant Jesus grows into a wise teacher who tells us that such generosity shouldn’t be put back into the box with the tinsel and the baubles, but lived out every day of our lives.
And when we give, and give, and give of our time, of our money, of ourselves, we discover the amazing truth, hinted at by Jesus. That it’s in giving that we receive.
A happy – and generous – new year to you all.