Sunday 21 December 2008

To the People of God – To the Laos - Christmas 2008

Dear People of God

How do you like to spend Christmas? For many of us, Christmas among other things means time on the beach, with a plastic bucket and spade. So imagine that you are with me, on your favourite beach, on a perfect sunny summer’s day. Pick up your bucket, and come with me to the water’s edge. Dip your bucket into the sea, and fill it to the brim. Then bring your bucket, and sit beside me.

Tell me about the sea you have in your bucket. There’s so much we can learn about the sea, just from one bucketful. We can smell the ozone, taste its tang, and see how it dries leaving a salty crust on our skin. We can tell how it stings in a cut, and smarts in our eyes. If we take the bucketful to a laboratory, we can discover all the chemicals that are in the water. We can test its density and specific gravity. We can investigate its molecular structure, its pH value, and even how polluted it is. But there is an awful lot about the sea that we cannot tell from just one bucketful. We cannot understand its depths, or its variations in temperature, or how its currents flow. We cannot calculate its tides. We cannot see how its waves rise during storms. We cannot feel its immense power, though even a bucketful thrown straight at us can sometimes knock us off our feet.

Jesus is like a ‘bucketful of God’. We can learn an awful lot about God from looking at Jesus. Of course, one person, in one place and one time, is not identical to the fullness of God, eternal, beyond all time and space. But in Jesus we see what God is really about, in ways we can comprehend. We see the love of God in his care for every individual he met, especially those who were in need, or hurting, or struggling with the burdens of life. We see him spending time with those whom society thought were worth very little – as well as debating with the leading thinkers of his community. We see someone who stands up for the truth, for what is right; who tells it as it is, and has no time for hypocrisy or corruption or exploitation, or for those who live at the expense of others.

We also see in Jesus real opportunities for new beginnings, for dealing with old wounds to our souls, our anger and resentments, and being set free from the way they often hurt us more than they hurt anyone else. We see someone who’ll stand with us, and help us be the best that we can be. We see someone to whom we can safely bring our worst fears, as well as our greatest hopes. We see someone we can really talk to about everything in our lives and know that he’ll understand what we’re going through, because he’s been there – he’s lived the human life, and he knows what it can throw at us.

We find in Jesus the certain promise of peacemaker wherever there is conflict – between nations, within communities, in families, even inside ourselves. Remember this, especially when you hear the news on the radio, when you watch the news, when you open a newspaper. Remember this, as you continue to pray for difficult situations in our continent, especially Congo and Zimbabwe. (And we offer our congratulations to Bishop Sebastian Bakare, who returned from retirement to care for the diocese of Harare, who has been awarded a major Swedish human rights prize, for ‘having given voice to the fight against oppression,’ and for promoting ‘freedom of speech and of opinion in a difficult political situation.’)

In Jesus, this bucketful of God, we see as much of God as we can grasp. We also see as much of what it means to be fully human as we can grasp. Jesus wants us to be brimful of him – he wants to help us become a ‘bucketful of Jesus’, so that our lives overflow with that same love and caring, with that same passion for truth, with that same encouragement for others that we find in him.

This is why one of the names of Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God with us’. As Christmas approaches, many of us will sing the hymn ‘O come, o come, Emmanuel’ because we know that the world and its inhabitants, with all our struggles and conflicts, needs God to step in and bring his peace (for Jesus also comes as the Prince of Peace), his joy, his love, his reconciliation, his new beginnings of harmony and cooperation.

But we also know that Jesus has come, and his sure promise is to be with us always, if we are ready to welcome him. This is why the refrain of that hymn tells us ‘Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to you …’

May you rejoice at the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, the bucketful of God, in your life this Christmas. And may you always know him with you, and with all those you love, in the year ahead.

I am going to take a break from letter-writing in January, so I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you again in February. But if you want to know what I am up to in the interim, or read some of my sermons or lectures (including last month’s Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture on ‘Constitution and Covenant’), use this blog or keep an eye on the Provincial website.

May I end with a big thank you to the many of you who have sent in Diocesan and Parish vision and mission statements to the Provincial Executive Office. If you have not yet done so, it is still not too late. We will be happy to continue receiving them, passing them on to the committee working on the Provincial vision statement.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town

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