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  • The Rt Revd Wallace Benn

The Real Hope this Christmas


Hope has been at a premium over the last 9 months in this Covid ridden world. Too many people have lost loved ones and there is a fear that our beloved NHS may still be overwhelmed with a spike in cases in the New Year. We have, thankfully, the relief of vaccines very soon that look really promising, but whatever vaccine we use will not be fully rolled out for some time yet. Economically our country is facing its biggest challenge since World War 2, and many are fearful about losing their job or their businesses going under. Families are feeling the strain of being apart. The book of Proverbs tells us wisely that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. But we do need to live in hope to keep us going.


What’s in a Name?

Matthew in his Gospel tells us three things about Christmas and the birth of Jesus that should bring us lasting hope, whatever life throws at us. They centre round the three names given to Jesus. In Bible times names had significant meanings and were not chosen just because they sounded nice! The first significant name given to Jesus is ‘Immanuel’ in fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy- “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel- which means God with us” (Matthew 1:23).


Jesus, God’s unique Son was born in poverty, in hardly suitable surroundings, his mother falsely accused, and the young family having to flee for their lives as refugees. If we were God we would never have done it like that! But the birth of Jesus shows us that God cares about everyone, not just the wise, rich or famous. In his birth he identified with us and bore our sorrows. There is no human experience that has caused us difficulty that Jesus has not been there before. Here is no indifferent God who does not understand suffering or pain, or who does not empathise with us. God promises his presence with us through the challenges of this life, if we open our lives and welcome Jesus the Son of God. His presence, strength and help make a big difference. We are no longer alone in a hostile universe without purpose and meaning, but our lives are in His hands and under his care.


The second name given to Jesus is ‘Christ’ (Matthew 1:18), which means anointed king or Messiah. God promised David, the greatest king in the Old Testament, that one day he would establish a kingdom that would never end, when his anointed king would come. When this king came God would come. All this was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, God’s Son. I love the line of the old hymn which says: ‘So be it, Lord, thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires pass away”. It is possible to enter God’s kingdom when we welcome by faith God’s Son in our lives, to come under his rule and care, with the prospect of a future certain hope of this kingdom being established when Jesus returns. Christians are people with a future and a hope!


The last name to notice that Jesus was called was ‘Jesus’! Joseph was instructed: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). One of the good things about our present crisis has been to make us think about the things that are really valuable. Too often we have lived for material things and our lives have been dominated by self-centred and selfish concerns. We have pushed God out and said we can rule our own lives, thank you very much! But now a tiny virus has reminded us that everything is not in our control. We need God to forgive our sinful self-centred arrogance and restore our relationship with him. But that is why Jesus came! He wants to forgive and restore us, if we open our lives to him and turn to him in repentance and faith.


There is so much we can still enjoy this Christmas (where possible) with our families and friends, even when contact may have to be restricted or ‘virtual’. In an increasingly lonely world, a phone call is just one way we can show kindness to our neighbours and those in our circle of friends and colleagues. We hope too that one day soon, in God’s goodness, we will get through the worst of this pandemic. But real and lasting hope this Christmas, as always, is found only in Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Will you make room for him in your life? And having discovered that joyful hope, will you share it with others?


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The Rt Revd Wallace Benn, former Bishop of Lewes

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