In the Church’s year, Christmas doesn’t abruptly come to an end on Christmas Day. I’m sure you know that there are twelve days of Christmas, and several of these are feast days. On 26 December we remember St Stephen, the first martyr. 27 December is St John the Evangelist – our patron saint. 29 December is St Thomas a Beckett, also martyred – and 28th December is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we remember the little boys under the age of two who, we are told in the Gospel of Matthew, were slaughtered by order of the wicked King Herod.
It is a bittersweet time, because hard on the heels of the celebration of the Saviour’s birth come these days when we remember those who have died in the faith – or, in the case of the Holy Innocents – died in an extra-judicial massacre. These feasts have even more resonance for me this year because of the grim news which we have been subjected to through 2022 – the headlines about thousands of children being deported from Ukraine to Russia, so many drownings in the Channel of people seeking a better life for themselves and their families. ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
But now we have passed the cusp of the year, and we look forward into 2023. What can we take with us from 2022, which might give us hope?
There were some real steps of progress. The agreement on biodiversity at the COP16 conference in Canada was ground-breaking, and if it is implemented, there will be big improvements in our care for nature. And, perhaps perversely, the fallout from the Trump presidency and the grimness of the news from Ukraine may be incentives for those who care about democracy and the rule of law to take real action.
Locally, of course, we have a newly transformed worship space and crypt, which are already becoming the places we hoped they could be. And we have a thriving and committed congregation who want to make a difference in the world.
There will always be darkness, there will always be pain. The challenge for us, as humans and as Christians, is this: how can we be part of the change from darkness to light and from pain to joy?
We celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, the birth of Jesus as a fragile baby, because, in that story, lies the truth that hope is inseparable from vulnerability, and love can only flourish in relationships.
So, as we move into 2023, I celebrate all the relationships which I have been given. Maybe that should be our New Year’s Resolution: to keep giving thanks for the gifts of love which we receive, so abundantly, every day of the week and every week of the year.
Emmanuel. God with us.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year
Now find out how to greet each other at St John’s in lots of different languages here