Christmas is a time with lots of traditions that we often can take for granted. If you look at Christmas cards or supermarket adverts on the TV you could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas was an English invention. You could say our Christmas owes more to Charles Dickens than Jesus Christ.

But my experience of visiting the Holy Land in November with 54 other people from Lincolnshire has made me think again and I would say that as someone who is 65 it is good to be made to think again.

I’ve spent most of my ministry preaching that the specific details of that first Christmas were unimportant. If it was going to happen, then it had to happen somewhere.

It didn’t matter that it was 2,000 years ago and not today; it didn’t matter that it was Palestine and not Lincolnshire.

What did matter was that it happened at all – that the love God had for each of us was expressed in the gift of his son, Jesus Christ. In giving of himself in Jesus Christ, God was, in the words of St Paul, reconciling the world to himself.

And all that is true. But we need to add something else as well.

  • That actually it does matter that it happened over there, and not here
  • That actually it does matter that God deliberately chose to come to earth in vulnerability and poverty and danger
  • That actually it does matter that Jesus spent his life with the poor and the marginalized, the oppressed and the poor.

Those who are poor and marginalized are to be found, of course, in Lincolnshire but across the world – not least in Palestine.

When God chose to come to earth, he didn't choose to do so in the centre of population and power. He didn’t choose Rome or Jerusalem or even Lindum Colonia – the Roman name for Lincoln.

In choosing to be born in occupied Palestine – a poor, outlying region of the Roman Empire – two thousand years ago, God showed the world that this is where he is to be found: in those who are marginalized and pushed to the edges of society.

If we are looking for God this Christmas, we will find that he is already waiting for us, but not in comfortable Britain, not even in the White House or Number 10, but in the poor and the lonely; the hungry and the homeless; the victims of prejudice and discrimination; those who unsettle us because they are ‘different’.

Jesus was different from us, and that matters.

His birth was not the controlled, domesticated event we so often try to make it. Everything was not in order and done to tradition. It was not something at the end of a great marketing campaign.

It was a subversive event that tells us that we can see God in our world, not through an encounter with ourselves but through encounters with others.

So when you glance at a Christmas card that looks possibly very ‘English’ remember that the Christmas story is more subtle than that.

Jesus came and comes to all people, to you and me and particularly (in history and today) in the needs of those who are very different from us.  

I wish you a hopeful and joyful Christmas.

Bishop Christopher

Main image: The International Peace Light, brought to Lincoln Cathedral from Bethlehem.