In his message, Bishop Trevor speaks of the hope of transformation and the promise of God’s presence with us.
Christmas is undoubtedly a time of transformation. As I write, across the nation people are rummaging in their lofts and basements, ransacking old boxes and forgotten corners to dig out the tinsel and lights as we turn our homes into shining beacons in the darkness. Suddenly, our drab car journeys on winter nights are transformed into a tour of the neighbourhood’s best, brightest – and sometimes ugliest – displays of festive lights. The inevitable combination of Santa, snowmen, penguins, trains and the little baby Jesus can lead to some interesting conversations about the Christmas story! Whether or not we feel ready for Christmas, whether or not we feel joyful at this time of year, we are assaulted on all sides by displays of seasonal cheer.
And a different kind of transformation will come with 1 January – a more serious, sober transformation as people step on the scales, check their bank balances and resolve to be more restrained, more grown-up as they board the self-improvement train. And yet, when we get to next December and begin the ritual again once more, we so often find that we ourselves are just the same as we were this time last year. Despite the resolutions, good intentions and grand plans, we find that nothing much has shifted.
This shouldn’t be a reason for despair – each of us is, after all, a work in progress. The Bible tells us that the project of personal improvement is a lifelong task. More importantly, we are told that it is not our task alone, but a partnership with God and each other. St Paul describes it this way: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” It is God’s involvement in this process that gives us hope, that makes true and lasting transformation possible for us and for our communities.
At this time of year we remember how something so small and seemingly insignificant as a tiny baby could change the course of history, against all odds. Christmas is a reminder of the power of small things to bring big change. More than that, Christmas teaches us that God’s involvement in the mess of our world makes hope possible in dark times and dark places.
I recently heard the story of Iain, who woke up one day in 2013 to discover that he’d suffered a massive stroke. Iain lost everything: his partner, his job, house and car… Doctors said he might never walk again. One night as Iain lay in hospital, consumed by fear and anxiety, someone he didn’t know sat and prayed with him. For Iain, this was a major turning point, what he describes as the first in a series of ‘signposts’ on his path to finding faith and building a new life. He now lives independently, is able to walk, work and drive and is part of a thriving Christian community. There’s been a deeper change, too: he says that his life is deeper and more fulfilling than ever.
Thankfully, not everyone experiences such a dramatic transformation as Iain, but whoever and wherever we are, God invites us to make the truth of Christmas real in our own lives, to dare to hope in dark times. And, as we allow ourselves to be transformed through encounter with Christ, may that overflow to our friends and families, to our communities: changed lives, changing lives.
May God bless you this Christmas and New Year with the hope of change and the promise of his presence,
Rt Revd Trevor Willmott
Bishop of Dover and Bishop in Canterbury