A Hymn for the New Year

The old year now hath passed away;
We thank Thee, 0 our God, today
That Thou hast kept us through the year
When danger and distress were near.

We pray Thee, 0 eternal Son,
Who with the Father reign’st as One,
To guard and rule Thy Christendom
Through all the ages yet to come.

Take not Thy saving Word away,
Our souls’ true comfort, staff, and stay.
Abide with us and keep us free
From errors, following only Thee.

Oh, help us to forsake all sin,
A new and holier course begin!
Mark not what once was done amiss;
A happier, better year be this,

Wherein as Christians we may live
Or die in peace that Thou canst give,
To rise again when Thou shalt come
And enter Thine eternal home.

There shall we thank Thee and adore
With all the angels evermore.
Lord Jesus Christ, increase our faith
To praise Thy name through life and death.

Lyrics: Johann Steuerlein, 1546-1613
Translation: Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

 

Hark, how all the welkin rings

On this seventh day of Christmas, I give you Charles Welsey’s original words to ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’ (h/t to Richard Hall at Connexions).

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born today!”

Christ, by highest Heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a Virgin’s womb!

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
hail the incarnate Deity!
pleased as man with men to appear,
Jesus, our Emmanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die;
born to raise the sons of earth;
born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
ruined nature now restore;
now in mystic union join
thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

 

I’m Not Done With Christmas Yet (Revised)

I posted the first draft of this song last December, just after I wrote it. It’s since been revised. The tune is a driving acoustic rock rhythm, 4/4 time.

Well the carols played for weeks on end
And the stores were full of cheer
And day by day the cards were swiped
As Christmas Day drew near.
But now Boxing week has come and gone
And there’s nothing left to sell
So a fickle world is moving on
To the next enchanting spell.

But while the innocents are slaughtered still
and the homeless find no rest;
til there’s peace on earth, good will to all,
I’m not done with Christmas yet,
I’m not done with Christmas yet.

Now the magic of that snowy night
has turned to a killing cold
and the days are long and empty now
for the mourners and the old.
And around the world the children cry
for the food that never comes,
while the men of war still ply their trade
in rockets and in guns.

While the innocents are slaughtered still
and the homeless find no rest;
til there’s peace on earth, good will to all,
I’m not done with Christmas yet,
I’m not done with Christmas yet.

I hear Jesus’ mother singing
kings are falling from their seats
there’s a revolution coming
God is lifting up the weak

You know a boy was born in Bethlehem
and he grew into a man
and he told the world that God is love
and his kingdom is at hand.
So the time has past for spreading hate
through the barrel of a gun
but I will guard the flame in Jesus’ name
til love and mercy come.

While the innocents are slaughtered still
and the homeless find no rest;
til there’s peace on earth, good will to all,
I’m not done with Christmas yet,
I’m not done with Christmas yet.

©Tim Chesterton, December 2009/January & April 2010

Emma (BBC Miniseries 2009)

I’ve just finished watching the 2009 BBC Miniseries adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’. I’m not going to write a proper review of this until I’ve watched it again. But I have to say that on first viewing I was mightily impressed – and I’m a big Jane Austen fan so I don’t like it when they mess with the stories. The dialogue was somewhat modernised, but the characters were brilliantly portrayed. Romola Garai was perhaps a little old for the part at 27, but she played Emma Woodhouse to a tee – passionate, impetuous, full of fun – and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley was every bit as sensible and severe as he needed to be, and yet also believable as a family friend. Michael Gambon of course was excellent (he always is) as Mr. Woodhouse, and I also really liked Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates.

I’d give this miniseries four and a half out of five.

In Search of Nic Jones

Regular readers of my blog will be well aware of my admiration for the music of the great Nic Jones. Nic was one of the leading lights on the folk music scene in England in the seventies and early eighties; he produced five superb solo albums of mainly traditional music, as well as a couple of earlier records with the group ‘The Halliard’. His 1980 album ‘Penguin Eggs‘ is one of the most influential folk albums of all time.

Unfortunately, because of a dispute with a record company Nic’s four earliest solo albums are not available for sale anywhere, which is a great pity because they really are little gems. The first two display an intricate guitar technique which he later abandoned in favour of a simpler style that drew more attention to the songs themselves. He had a very unusual way of playing, in that he did not keep his nails long; he used a thumb pick and then plucked the other strings with the flat of his fingers. This produced a very percussive style, underlined by the fact that he tended to use very low open tunings.

In 1982 a horrendous car accident hospitalised Nic for six months and brought his career to an unfortunate end. During the long recovery period he had difficulty remembering anything, and his wife Julia put out a request to the folk music world for any recordings of his songs, which could then be used to help jog his memory. The response was enormous and eventually over five hundred recorded tracks – some live, some from radio sessions with the BBC and other similar sources – were uncovered. Given the difficulty regarding Nic’s earlier albums and the continuing interest in his work, it was decided to begin releasing some of these recordings. To date, three of these compilation albums have been released: ‘In Search of Nic Jones‘ (1998), ‘Unearthed‘ (2001), and ‘Game, Set, and Match‘ (2006).

I’ve been working through them back to front, as it were; I got ‘Game, Set, and Match’ in 2007 in England, and ‘Unearthed’ earlier this year. I’ve now completed my collection as Marci bought me ‘In Search of Nic Jones’ for Christmas. The twelve tracks on this CD were intentionally chosen to give a broad representation of the sort of stuff Nic would play at a live event, and my first surprise was the number of cover tunes; I think of Nic mainly as an interpreter of traditional songs, and didn’t realise just how many cover tunes he did. So here we have songs by the likes of Randy Newman and Loudon Wainright III, shoulder to shoulder with Nic’s excellent arrangements of old classics like ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’, ‘Ploughman Lads’ and ‘Rose of Allandale’, and also a couple of originals (‘Ruins by the Shore’, ‘Green to Grey’). Also included is Nic’s well-known instrumental arrangement of the ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ tune.

I think this is destined to become one of my favourite CDs. I won’t review every single track, but to name just one: I’ve heard arrangements of ‘Lord Franklin’ by (to name just a few) John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Eilis Kennedy, Duncan McFarlane, and Sinead O’Connor (and I’ve created one myself), but Nic’s simple version on this album has already rocketed to the top of my list.

All in all a wonderful album, and one I highly recommend for fans of Nic Jones and for others who might like to give him a try. Order it direct from Nic and Julia at the Molly Music website.

Is God Working His Purpose Out? (a sermon on Matthew 2:13-23)

Well, that was a nice Christmas, wasn’t it? For a few brief moments we enjoyed the magic – the story of a child born far from home, laid in a manger by his mother, visited by shepherds and wise men who were guided to his cradle by angels and the light of a star. This is the part of the story that all the carols sing about.  But then we come back to hard reality with a bump. Right after the story of the visit of the wise men comes today’s gospel reading. The wise men were warned in a dream not to go back and tell Herod where to find the child, so they took off home by another route. When Herod heard of this, he was outraged, and he ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in Jerusalem under the age of two, just to make sure he had wiped out the potential threat to his throne.

This, by the way, was entirely in character with what we know of Herod the Great from history. He was a fanatically insecure ruler who had his wife, his mother, and several of his sons murdered because he suspected them of plotting against him. At his death he had several of the leading citizens of Jerusalem rounded up and murdered, because, he said, he knew no one would mourn for him, and he was not going to die without tears being shed. This is exactly the sort of man to be frantically worried by news that a royal pretender had been born in Bethlehem, the ancestral home town of the family of King David, and he would certainly be ruthless enough to wipe out the children in the manner described in this story.

This is a difficult story for Christians, and I suspect that there won’t be very many sermons on it today. The theological point that Matthew is trying to make throughout this passage is that God is working his purpose out in the midst of a world that is dead set against him and his plans. Jesus is not born in an idyllic time in human history; he is born in a time when ordinary life is cheap and when great rulers carry out their plans with no regard for how they will effect the lives of ordinary people. In Luke’s story of the nativity, Jesus arrives in Bethlehem as a result of one such event, the decision by the Roman emperor to order a census which would require everyone to travel back to their ancestral towns. There is no thought of how this will disrupt trade and cause chaos in the lives of ordinary people; the powers that be decide that this is what is going to happen, and you have to obey. And yet Luke sees God at work here; Jesus’ family lived in Nazareth, but as a result of this census they returned to Bethlehem so that the old prophecies about the birth of the Messiah would be fulfilled. God is working his purpose out.

Interestingly enough, Matthew doesn’t seem to have known this story. He seems to have thought that Bethlehem was Mary and Joseph’s home town, and that they made the move to Nazareth after their return from Egypt. But Matthew too wants to show us how God was working his purpose out, and he does this by connecting the story of Jesus to the old prophecies.

In Matthew’s gospel we’ve already seen several examples of old prophecies being fulfilled in the life of Jesus. In today’s passage three more prophecies are mentioned. First, Hosea 11:1 talks about Israel as God’s son and says ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’, referring to God bringing his people out of slavery in Egypt and into their own promised land. For Matthew, Jesus relives in his own life the story of Israel. Israel went to Egypt and back, and so does Jesus. Israel came through the waters of the Red Sea and Jesus comes through the water of baptism. Both Israel and Jesus are tested and tempted in the desert, and so on. So Matthew sees this as a legitimate application of Hosea’s prophecy to Jesus.

Verse 18, about Rachel weeping for her children, is taken from Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel was one of the great mothers in the time of the patriarchs, and Jeremiah wrote symbolically about her weeping as, hundreds of years later, her descendants were taken into exile in Babylon. Matthew sees that the misery inflicted by a foreign army at the time of the exile has come again to Israel through the cruel actions of Herod, and so the prophecy is fulfilled in the story of the slaughter of the innocents.

Verse 23 is more mysterious; no Old Testament prophecy that we know of says ‘He will be called a Nazorean’. However, Isaiah 11:1 might have been in Matthew’s mind; it mentions a coming ruler, a ‘branch’ from the family of David, and the Hebrew word for branch is ‘nezer’, which sounds a little like the name ‘Nazareth’. Matthew may be making a pun here, but a pun with a serious purpose: Jesus is the ‘branch’, the ruler God has sent for his people.

The point in all of these prophecies is that God is working his purpose out. Jesus is born into a world much like ours – a world where human beings rebel against God and sin against each other. And we’re not talking about little personal sins like overindulging in Christmas turkey or cheating on your expense account. Those sins do have consequences, of course, as your EKG reading or the frown on your boss’ face will testify! But in the world we live in, some people’s sins have horrific consequences. Children are captured and turned into child soldiers or sold as sex slaves. People are killed because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time – because their house happened to be near the place the bomb was targeting, for instance, or they happened to live in the path of the invading army, or they were walking the street when the gunfire erupted between two rival gangs.

These outrages happen all the time, and it does not seem to be God’s normal practice to rescue people from them. God’s usual policy seems to be to let the world experience the consequences of sin, while all the time calling on us to repent and to learn a new way of living, the way of love and peace and justice. But he will not impose this way on us; his ‘prime directive’, as Star Trek would put it, is to respect our freedom of choice.

And yet, in all of this, God is working his purpose out; this is the testimony of the whole Bible. So in the book of Genesis an earlier Joseph is a bratty kid who exploits his position as his father’s favourite and exasperates his brothers, to the point that they sell him as a slave into Egypt and tell his father that he’s been killed by a wild animal. Joseph goes through years of suffering and hardship in Egypt, and God does not rescue him from them. Eventually, through a long and complicated series of events, he becomes a sort of Prime Minister of Egypt, and he turns out to be in exactly the right place at the right time to be able to help his father and his brothers when they come down to Egypt to escape from a famine in their own country. God is working his purpose out.

This theme is repeated in many places in the Bible. We naturally love best the stories about how God sends miraculous deliverance to his people, but they are relatively few. In most cases, God does not rescue his people from the consequences of human evil. And yet he is always quietly at work, turning evil events around and bringing good out of them, so that his plan of salvation goes forward.

Sometimes, though, it seems hard for us to see how this is happening, especially when it’s the innocent bystanders who suffer the consequences of human evil. Imagine what it would be like, years later, if you had been one of the mothers of the children of Bethlehem, and you had happened to hear this story from the gospel of Matthew read for the first time. Let’s imagine Susanna and Joachim, a young couple in their early twenties, with their firstborn son, little Davey, named after old King David because they lived in David’s home town. Imagine little Davey at eighteen months old, having recently learned to walk, getting into everything, beginning to learn to talk; he’s a healthy, happy child and they’re a happy family.

And then one night the king’s soldiers surround the town of Bethlehem, and at first light they come into the town. They order all parents with small children into the town square, search the houses to make sure that they haven’t missed anyone, and then without a word they kill every boy under the age of two. “Just following orders”, they say. It’s a cruel world, and that sort of thing happens all the time.

Susanna and Joachim, of course, are devastated; for months and years they go through periods of numbness, anger, and bitterness, before gradually coming to a place of acceptance. Maybe friends and neighbours try to give them easy theological answers about ‘God calling him home’ and ‘God always calls the best’, but Susanna and Joachim just can’t buy this. Instead, they find new meaning in the words of their prayer book, the psalms – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ – ‘break the teeth of the wicked, O God’ – and yet they still turn to God somehow; there’s nowhere else to turn.

It’s taken years, but they’ve come to a place of peace about all this. They’ve had other children, but they still remember little Davy and pray that God will raise him from the dead on the day of the resurrection of the righteous. Later on they hear the story of Jesus and become Christians; they experience the gift of the Holy Spirit and find some comfort in the sense of God’s presence in their lives in Christian worship and fellowship. Until one day when a newly written document is read out loud in the worship of their church, a book about the life of Jesus, written by a man called Matthew. Joachim and Susanna are old now, in their eighties, with great-grandchildren, and yet a chill falls on their hearts when they hear of how God warned the family of Jesus in a dream, and he was able to escape from Bethlehem. And now all the old questions resurface, and they wonder whether they love Jesus so much after all. If God could protect him, why not their little Davy?

I would love to be able to give you an easy answer to this question this morning, but there is no such easy answer. What I will point out, though, is that, poignant as this question is, it is just one example of an even bigger dilemma. For every blind person Jesus healed, there were hundreds more in Israel that he did not heal. For every son of a widow he raised from the dead, there were thousands more widows whose only sons had also died.

As Philip Yancey has pointed out, for thinking Christians, answered prayers are sometimes more problematic than unanswered ones. If God answers the prayer of one person in trouble, what about the others? No doubt a Christian who had been booked to fly on one of the 9/11 airliners, and had been prevented from flying at the last minute, would thank God for rescuing him. But if he told that story publicly, relatives of those who had died would ask themselves angrily ‘How come God didn’t rescue my son or daughter too?’ And in wartime family members of soldiers always pray that God would protect their loved ones in battle, but how does God choose which of those prayers he will answer and which he will ignore?

Of course the real answer involves the abolition of war altogether; that’s the only way to be fully just about these things. A world where there is no more sin, no more selfishness, no more lust for power, no more evil, is the only sort of world where the prayers of everyone can be answered. And Jesus has assured us that one day we will live in that sort of a world. In fact, he’s told us to pray for it to come soon: ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’. But of course we need to be careful about how we pray that prayer. We live in the richest part of the world and enjoy a far greater percentage of the world’s wealth than justice would allow. How would God answer our prayer without asking us to live with less so that others could simply live? That’s the dilemma God faces, you see, every answered prayer has consequences somewhere else. So what’s the good news in this passage? Should we stop praying altogether?

Not at all. Jesus encourages us to pray and to bring our requests to God. Not only that, but we just can’t help ourselves, can we? If you are a person of faith, and you have people you love, you can no more stop praying for them than you can stop breathing. I have four children and a grandson who I love more than I could even have imagined before he was born. Don’t tell me I can’t pray for them!

But as we pray, we realize that in the present imperfect state of the world, a perfect outcome for everyone is not going to happen. Evil is still present, sickness still exists, and human beings sin against each other with horrible consequences. God weeps for this, like Rachel weeping for her children. And he is not far removed from it. He came and lived among us as one of us. He had to run to escape from Herod’s death squads. He lived as a refugee in Egypt, a displaced person, probably an illegal immigrant. Later on he was misunderstood by his family and even his closest friends. He was betrayed and given over to the power of the state and the empire, and they tortured him and nailed him to a cross. This is what it meant for him to be ‘Emmanuel’, ‘God with us’.

And yet, through it all, in a way we can’t usually see or understand, God is working his purpose out. The death of Jesus, the vilest deed human beings have ever committed, turned out to be the way of reconciliation between God and human beings. Over and over again, in the history of Christianity, the sufferings of God’s people have somehow led to great advances for the kingdom of God. And the day will come, Jesus assures us, when those who have committed evil deeds will be held accountable for them – although, if I want God to have mercy on me for my sins, I might want to be careful about demanding too loudly that he punish the evil deeds of others.

The story of the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem is a tough one for us to understand, but the Bible doesn’t whitewash these tough issues. Ultimately, this story leads us to pray ever more fervently for the coming of God’s kingdom. And meanwhile, in this gospel reading, Matthew encourages us to believe that in the midst of all the evil in the world God is working his purpose out, and that the day will come when every hurt is healed and every tear wiped away. And in the end, that is our Christian hope.

Why Would God do such a Crazy Thing? (A Sermon for Christmas Day)

In the original movie ‘Shadowlands’, there’s a fictional conversation between C.S. Lewis and another university professor about the meaning of Christmas. Lewis says, “It’s all about magic, Christopher: God becomes a man”. The other professor replies, “Then God must be bonkers! Who would choose to become voluntarily human? Much better to stay safely divine!”

As a Christian, I have to admit that I often think they both had good points! On Lewis’ side, we have to face the fact that this is what the Christian story claims – that in the birth of Jesus, God has become a human being. A popular song of a few years ago says:

If God had a face, what would it look like
And would you want to see it right,
if seeing meant that you would have to believe
in things like heaven,
and in Jesus, and the saints, and all of the prophets?

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on a bus trying to make his way back home?

 

I’ve often thought that we should add this song to the Christmas carol books. This is exactly what the Christmas story is all about; it’s God becoming one of us, God sharing our human life, God experiencing all the things that we experience. The technical word for it in Christian theology is ‘incarnation’ – God taking on himself our human flesh.
But we also have to face the point of view of the other professor in the movie. Has God taken leave of his senses? If God is the almighty creator of the universe, what would possess him to allow himself to be born as a helpless baby, to put himself in a position of complete dependence on human parents, to make himself vulnerable to all the pain and suffering of life on earth? What on earth would be the point of it? What sort of God decides to do something like that? Let me suggest a few things that this Christmas story tells us about what sort of God would do this.

First, the sort of God who would do this would be a God who believed in the power of love and not the power of force. There are a lot of people in the Christmas story who believe in the power of force. There’s the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. The story tells us that ‘In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered… All went to their own home towns to be registered’ (Luke 2:1, 3). Imagine having that kind of power! Caesar sits on his throne in Rome and sends out an order that all the millions of people in his empire are to be registered – presumably for tax purposes. Immediately thousands of public officials and soldiers leap to do his bidding! That’s the sort of power that can get things done! Or think of King Herod – he hears that a rival king has been born in Bethlehem, and immediately sends a death squad to kill all male children under the age of two years old. That’s decisive action! No one would dare to question the authority of a man who could give an order like that!

And yet today, two thousand years later, the only reason we remember Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great is because of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem during their reign. Despite all their power and influence, they died like anyone else, and they left the world much as they found it.

In contrast to them, Jesus did not have the authority to order a million people to interrupt their lives for an income tax registration, and he killed no one during the thirty-three years of his life. He spent his life teaching the truth and reaching out in love to everyone he met. He didn’t concentrate on the powerful and the rich in an attempt to influence the movers and shakers of society; rather, he hung out with lepers and tax collectors, blue-collar workers and prostitutes, and everywhere he went he brought transformation into people’s lives. Jesus touched them, and they had the sense that they had been touched by God. It wasn’t the power of force; it was the power of love – God’s love. He modelled it for us in the way he lived his life, and even when human beings rejected him, he did not strike back, but allowed them to kill him by nailing him to a cross. In that act, he was saying to us, “You may be able to kill me, but you can never kill my love for you”.

Christmas tells us about a God who believes in the power of love, not the power of force. Second, the kind of God Christmas tells us about is a God who thinks you make a difference by coming close, not by standing far away and yelling instructions.

There’s an old episode of MASH where Father Mulcahey and Radar find themselves in the situation of having to perform a tracheotomy on a man in a combat zone. Neither of them are doctors, of course; the only thing they can do is call the real doctors at the MASH unit and ask them to guide them through the operation. Of course, it’s an awful thing for both the doctors who are giving the instructions and for the people who are trying to follow them! Long distance instructions might work sometimes, but you know there’s something lacking there.

Religious history is full of stories of gods who give their wisdom at long distance – gods who aren’t crazy enough to get close to this dangerous human race, but stay safely divine, far away in heaven, and send their messengers to give us their words of advice. But the Christian story is not that sort of story. In the prologue to his Gospel, St. John calls Jesus ‘The Word’; he says, ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory (John 1:14) – or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, ‘The Word became a human being and moved into our neighbourhood’ (‘The Message’). This God is not a general who barks orders at his soldiers by radio from a safe headquarters miles away from the front lines; rather, he’s a general who comes right to the front lines and knows what it’s like to wade through the mud in the trenches: ‘What if God was one of us?’ Well, he was!

And the thing is this: by coming close to us in this way, by living as one of us, he showed us two things. He showed us what God is like, and he showed us what a real human life is meant to be like.

Jesus shows us what God is like. This is what the writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews means when he says:

‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being’ (Hebrews 1:1-3a).

‘The exact imprint of God’s very being’. In other words, Jesus is the very best picture of God that we humans have ever seen. John V. Taylor expressed it well when he said, ‘In God there is no un-Christ-likeness at all’. When Jesus had lived his life of love for God and others, when he had gone all the way to the cross to show us the true extent of God’s love for us, then we humans finally had a true portrait of what God is like. God is like Jesus.

But Jesus not only shows us what God is like; he also shows us what human life is meant to be like. We have a common saying: ‘I’m only human’; usually we use it as an excuse for the times we mess up, the times we fall short of what we know we should be. It’s as if we’re claiming that being human is an excuse for being bad! And, of course, you and I have never seen a human being who wasn’t flawed in some way.

But Jesus came and lived the sort of life that God dreamed for us humans when he created us in the first place. He told us that the two great commandments – the ones everything else depends on – are that we love God with all our heart, and we love our neighbour as ourselves. And then he lived that out in his daily life. To learn to follow him is to learn to be truly human, the way God intended human life to be lived. It’s not about who has the most toys, or who is the most popular, or who can force the most people to do what they want. It’s about right relationships – with God, and with our neighbours. Get that wrong, and we’ve missed the whole point. Get it right, and we’ve grasped the reason we were created in the first place.

But there’s another aspect to this as well. Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted and to suffer as a human being, so he can sympathise with us in our suffering and our weakness. Again, the writer to the Hebrews says.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

So no – God was not out of his mind when he decided to become one of us. There was method in God’s madness. God is love, through and through, and everything that he did was consistent with that love. He came in love, not in force. He came close to us, to show us the way and to give us the help we needed, rather than standing at a safe distance and barking orders at us.

The song ‘What if God was one of us?’ also has this question: ‘If God had a name, what would it be?’ The Christmas story tells us that when God came to us in his Son, he chose a name for himself: ‘Jesus’, or ‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew, which means ‘God saves’ or ‘God to the rescue’. This name tells us so much about the character of God. The old saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves’, is completely wrong; the Bible tells us that God helps those who can’t help themselves! That’s why he came: to save us from sin and evil and death and to lead us into freedom and joy and goodness and love.

What sort of God would do such a thing? Surely the simple answer is, a God who loves us more than we can begin to imagine. The Christmas story assures us of that love. Let’s thank God today for the great love he showed by coming among us as one of us, and let’s trust and follow him day by day and so enjoy that love forever.