This article first appeared in the December edition of Itchen Valley News
I have heard it said of Archbishop Justin Welby that he is a person who uses the name ‘Jesus’ naturally in conversation. I write this as we approach Christmas because it does puzzle me why it is that many of us do not, except as a swear word. We seem to be happy to use the word ‘God’ (if we believe that he exists) but for some reason the ‘J word’ just seems so difficult to say. People who talk about ‘Jesus’ are seen by much of society as crazed loons. But why? After all, a recent survey found that around 40% of the UK population described themselves as Christian, even though a much smaller figure (about 10%) attends church regularly. It seems odd that so many of us are happy to describe ourselves as ‘Christians’ when asked to do so by a survey or census, but find it difficult if we hear someone speaking about ‘Jesus’ without looking at our shoes or seeking some way to escape.
I think that, maybe, the reason that it is so difficult to use the word ‘Jesus’ is that it is so specific. We can talk easily about ‘God’. We can say whether we think a God exists or not. We can speculate on what his character might be, if he does exist. We can reinvent him as the sort of person we think that he should be. But when we say the word ‘Jesus’ then this is a whole other ball game. We have to deal with what we know about a human being who actually existed 2000 years ago in Palestine, a man whose existence and character is documented by historians contemporary to the Ancient World, such as Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus, none of them friends of Christianity. But, most importantly, we can discover his character from reading the contemporary witness statements of what he said and did, which appear in the Bible. There really is no other way that we can know what he is like. It is Christianity’s contention that this man is God, in a trinitarian combination with the Father and the Spirit. So, as we look at the character of Jesus revealed in the Bible, we discover the character of God the creator of the universe himself. And that character is pretty amazing…..
We learn that he loves each of us. We learn that his love was ultimately expressed in his journey to the cross where he carried the cost of our sinfulness – all those things we do that create an obstacle between us and our creator. We learn how we can access that love by being ‘re-born’ and trusting in him. We also learn that he has some very challenging things to say to us on how we should live, but also that knowing him is the answer to all our questions of purpose and identity, which are so central to our well-being and happiness.
Even if so many of us find it difficult to talk or hear about Jesus or don’t attend church, yet over 90% of us celebrate Christmas! We, in Itchen Valley Parish, are so delighted to welcome so many of our neighbours at Christmas every year, but it’s going to be more of a challenge this year to receive you all in church than usual. As I write this, I am assuming that we will go back to the same level of Covid controls as we were in before we were put in lockdown. We are hoping that we will be able to have about 30 people in every service wearing masks and sadly refraining from singing. We will need to book our attendance at all our services (for track and trace purposes) and it’s probably best if you could only book for one service at Christmas per household. We won’t be able to put on our usual Carols in the Barn (it’s just too difficult to manage the children on a socially distanced basis) but we will have Midnight Mass at Avington. We are going to try and put on something to substitute for the Crib Service in Easton on Christmas Eve, but numbers will be limited and we would ask that only families with young children attend and book in advance. On Christmas Day itself we are hoping to hold communion services at all our churches at 10am in Avington. Easton, Itchen Abbas and Martyr Worthy) which will be led by our LLM Gerry Stacey and our two BCMs Dan Day-Robinson and Tim Clapp, whom you will have seen at the Acts of Remembrance in Avington and Itchen Abbas in November. I will be leading the service in Easton and this service will also be zoomed.
I hope that if you are able to attend one of our services over the Christmas period, you will engage with the story told, that you will be astonished, as I always am, that God the Creator of the Universe came to earth as a man 2000 years ago and that you won’t find (if you do at the moment) using the name ‘Jesus’ such an embarrassment in 2021!