December and January

Will you be listening to the Queen on Christmas Day? She is as much a part of Christmas as turkey and crackers. In an ever-changing world we hold on to the things that seem unchangeable. Perhaps that’s why people still go to church at Christmas, when they don’t at other times of year.
In a spirit of festive optimism may I commend a book to you that Teresia gave to me? I am slowly making my way through it, and I am finding it very heartening reading. It is called “Factfulness”, by Hans Rosling. The strap line is “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world—and why things are better than you think.” It’s a book that seeks to counter the overwhelming pessimism that would greet the casual observer of a world in crisis.
“Not so!” says Mr Rosling. Look at the percentage of people living in poverty—it is much lower than it used to be. Look at rates of infant mortality—in the 1800s the average family had six children, of which two survived to adulthood. Now, the average family has two children and both survive to be adults. This is cause for great rejoicing, and there are many other facts about the world that give us cause for optimism.
So why do we feel so bad? Well, yes, things are bad. There is still poverty, there is still untimely death, many societies are cruel, and suffering still abounds. War has not ceased, despite our great remembrance this year. So, yes, thing are bad—but they are also better than they were, and still getting better. It’s not much of a headline, is it, “Things are getting better!—Slowly! Incrementally!”? But it is worth remembering.
There are two sides to the Kingdom of God, of which Christ’s coming into the world at Christmas is a great sign and inaugural event. One is the dramatic end-of-the-world show, the wrapping up of history in Christ’s Kingly (and direct) rule. The kind of thing the Book of Revelation is about. The other side is about how the Kingdom of God creeps into the world, and has been doing so for 2000 years, through the faith and actions of people like you and me. This is what theologians call the ‘now and not yet’ of the kingdom. God’s kingdom isn’t always obvious.
“Know this,” says Jesus, “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.” This is for the people who needed to be told because they hadn’t noticed it for themselves. It’s not surprising that God’s Kingdom can pass unnoticed when you think about how its King was born. Not in a palace, or a great hall. Not with a burden of expectation and a heavy robe. But in the ordinary way for most babies born throughout world history—in a back room, dirty, unkempt, ill-prepared despite the inevitability of birth. The Magi, travelling from the East and looking for a King, didn’t get it either.
But this birth was actually the best news for a world in crisis. Things are getting better—slowly, incrementally, as a baby grows up to be a wandering teacher who attracts disciples, starts a movement and does something amazing and incredible when he is put to death on a cross.
The Now of the kingdom is the reality of Jesus, and what he has accomplished for us. Our forgiveness and salvation. The Not-Yet is our understanding, and our confidence as humanity, to live confidently in this new way. Christmas is the time is starts—the truly unchanging event in an ever-changing world. So things are getting better, no matter what they say. All Kingdoms and Empires pass away, except this one which is still coming into being. Celebrate its birth this Christmas.

Holy Trinity, Prestwood is an Inclusive Church. We are part of the Church of England.
We are in the Oxford diocese and the Wendover Deanery.

The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of Holy Trinity, Prestwood is a registered charity, no. 1129233.

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