The central message of Christmas is that the word ‘God’ is no longer a vague
notion, a throw-away word or even an expletive. For Jesus of Nazareth to offer a definition
of the word God is a clear invitation requiring a response, say the gospel-writers.
Belief in the incarnation is an amazing reassurance when the world is troubled and
dark, as it so often is. Back in the 14 th century the English Mystic, Julian of Norwich,
proclaimed even while the plague was raging, a plague which killed a third of the
population, ‘all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’. This is not optimism – it
is defiance. And we could do with some defiance as 2023 dawns.
It is not self-evident that human beings are the Goldilocks species, that things will
be OK. As 2023 lumbers into view, quite the opposite. The power of the heirs of ancient
empires such as Rome is rising and crushing opposition everywhere you look; the cruel
inequality between groups and classes of human beings is increasing the persecution of
the already powerless; the future of carbon-based life on this lonely planet is at risk even if
we all sign up to modest green plans. Those four horsemen of John’s apocalypse are
mounted and on the move. Who would dare to sing ‘things can only get better’?
In face of all this we must declare that optimism will not do. Hope has to be greater
than this – otherwise God might as well not exist. So it is just as well that Christian faith is
not a form of optimism. It must be far, far deeper and stronger, or it will not take the strain.
God is far, far greater than our imagining – and then we hear a baby crying in a manger.
For us Christians God has defined the word God in a way we can all understand
and even dare to identify with. The word became a human being, one of us. The power of
love will defeat even death. History, however bleak, can be claimed as his story. As the
hymn has it; ‘I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain’. There is
a defiance about the cross and the Easter message which demands our loyalty and our
persistence. We dare to call 2023 anno domini, a year of the Lord. If those who seek to
follow Jesus cannot be defiantly hopeful, who can?
Revd Peter Brain