There are twelve days of Christmas ending with the Epiphany – the 12th day – on 6th January. This is my excuse for staying with a Christmas theme! In November we had some house groups in Slindon and what follows comes from a question that someone attending asked.
As an aside, one of the things I love about church or any discussion group is we learn from one another. As a parish priest, I have always found I have a lot to learn from my parishioners, both from those I meet in church and those I don’t.
The context: I was asking those attending what Christmas meant to them. One member referred to the word for Jesus used particularly at Christmas – “Immanuel” or God with us. So far so good and the rector is still on very comfy ground. Then the question came: so, what would the church look like, feel like, be like, if we lived as if God really was with us?
No longer quite so comfortable. For, of course, behind that question is both the comfort that God in his love is with us, but also the challenge, (a big one), that God’s love is so radical that it led to a profound quality of love and a love that the world found so challenging, that it led to the cross.
And I would suggest that because love is the meaning of the Christmas story, the question I was asked can be asked of any community, though the well-spring for our individual answers might be different. What would our parishes look like if that radical love was at the centre of it?
The hope in my life is centred on a belief that God is with me and us – but I am also to live out the radical love bit, however much I might stumble in the attempt.
By mistake (I misread the passage I was meant to be looking up for the service the following Sunday!), I came across part of the First Letter of Peter Chapter 3. The two letters of Peter are probably the bit of the New Testament I know least well. I very seldom quote from the Bible: but this passage brings together the comfort and hope with the challenge:
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing…… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience……For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil……..For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
I am hoping in my personal life and in our church life to explore further that question: what would the church look like, feel like and how would its life be – and indeed what would I look like, feel like and how would I live – if I took “Immanuel”, God with us and me, deeper into my life?