An Advent reflection from Bishop Alan Hopes
In his Advent Reflection, the Bishop of East Anglia, the Rt Rev Alan Hopes says: "God is not distant, he is very close to us. In fact, in Jesus, God is one of us.
On Christmas night, the angel of God appeared to simple shepherds, and said to them: “glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of good will”. He invited them to come and worship the new-born Jesus, cradled in the arms of Mary. These shepherds were ordinary people, working hard day and night in the fields around Bethlehem.
The prophets called this child Emmanuel, which means God-is-with-us. God created all things and continues to hold all things together. God is not distant. He is very close to us. In Jesus, God is one of us. He now shares in our poverty and suffering. He now shares in the life and experiences of each human person, no matter their personal histories or mistakes. God made each one of us. And he loves each one of us. He loves you.
The historical world that Jesus was born into seems very distant to us in twenty-first century western Europe. But although our surroundings, technologies, and philosophies always change over time, we ourselves remain the same, with hearts that yearn for love and with minds that yearn for faithfulness to the truth. Those minds and hearts are often tired and broken by life, and in our human sadnesses, the darkness of our human winter, we all yearn for a glimmer of hope.
In that ancient world, people really only had hope: their country was occupied, their worldly glory was long-gone, and everything was always on the brink of a calamity and conflict. And they were physically vulnerable to sickness and unexpected death. They knew from sad experience that so many things were beyond their power. Everybody, both rich and poor, yearned so much for an answer to life’s questions, and yearned for peace in the midst of uncertainty. Looking around us today, we might recognise some of those human needs which need to be answered with love, because the hopeful light of Jesus still shines in his Church, his people, ordinary people who, like the shepherds, come to worship him on Christmas night.
The gift of life and love is the greatest gift that we are given. It is given to us by God. Simply speaking, God is love. And true love is marked by self-gift and generosity. We know that many human lives are marked with winter darkness. Perhaps our own lives are very dark at the moment. Looking at the Baby Jesus in the crib at Bethlehem, his arms wide open with love, we cannot help but share that love with others; the love that he so freely and joyfully gives to us. In his becoming one of us, he allows us to glorify God in worship; his truth brings peace to our confused world; his people are taught the importance of goodness and love.
When we sing with the angel “glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of good will,” let us really allow Jesus to bring his light into our dark winter nights, and to the dark winter nights of those around us by our sharing of this gift. God is one of us. And God is love.