Bishop Kevin’s Christmas Message 2023

Dear Friends,

The best is yet to come. That is the promise of ‘Winterfest’, which has taken over the whole of George Square and, indeed, central Glasgow, since the middle of November. The wonderfully bright lights are attractive and promise good times for everyone. There are food stalls and fairground rides with the promise of excitement and thrills for all ages at all times. Many of the shops around the centre of town are extending their opening hours because ‘Winterfest’ is about ‘shop-until-you-drop’ and the best is yet to come, with Santa Claus, the messiah of secular society.

The bright lights of George Square are attractive, I love them. Wander around the Square and in the shadows, towards the edge of the fairground, is an almost life-size crib, in which we can identify Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. I love the crib because it is witness to the fact that the true spirit of Christmas is very different to the bright lights of ‘Winterfest’ and Santa Claus.  In the first place Christmas begins on Christmas Day, it does not end with Santa Claus. Christmas Day is the beginning of what the traditional prayer books described as forty days of unremitting joy. Joy summarised in the simple strapline – the best is yet to come.

The crib scene is built toward the edge of the ‘Winterfest’ square, in the shadows of fairground rides and food stalls. That reminds those of us who profess Christian faith that preparation for celebrating the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ involves reflection and coming to terms with the shadows. The shadow side of our own personalities, the bits of ourselves we would rather be without. The shadow side of church life: why do money and numbers and age cast a shadow on our making the good news of the gospel real? And the shadow side of our society: why are so many homeless, living in poverty, hungry, living with abuse, violence?  The shadows of war in Ukraine, Israel Palestine, shadows cast over world peace. And yet the crib reminds us that the best is yet to come in true Hope.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the story of the birth of a baby, whose parents lived in poverty, in a country under foreign rule. They journeyed to escape political oppression and physical violence, but they journeyed in faith. The faith that God, who is love. is with us, that God in love is faithful to all whose humanity bears the God-given likeness seen in the baby Jesus. And the best is yet to come.

The story of our Lord Jesus Christ is the story of how all that is best in human nature and experience is a reflection of love that is of God. Is a reflection of God who is love, felt, experienced, longed for.

The story of the birth of Jesus is the story of fulfilment of all that God had promised in Hebrew scripture. That is the importance of Joseph, who embodied all the virtues of God’s faithfulness. Mary, who felt called to make God’s promises real, did she respond to the angel or was the call within her heart? The shadows of ambiguity bring Hope in faith, and the best is yet to come.

Joy is often interpreted as absence. The absence of pain, regret, guilt, deprivation.  The story of Our Lord Jesus Christ proves that God is with us even, especially, in these shadows which teach us so much about love that makes sense of, gives meaning and purpose to, our experience: there is Hope because God is with us. Joy is known not through absence but in recognising there is meaning and purpose in who and what we are, and the shadows are the result of light in our darkness. Joy in our soul is the reality that God is with us – and the best is yet to come…

May all God’s blessings be yours this Christmastide.

Happy Christmas,

+ Kevin