Methodist President’s Christmas Message

The President of the Methodist Conference has challenged people to look beyond the romanticism of the Christmas story in search of the reality.

Revd David Gamble Christmas said Christmas was actually much more about the real world than it was about a lovely story of far off places in far off times.

"It's about a young unmarried mother," he said. "And our country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the European Union. It's about a homeless couple and their young child out in the cold. Look on the streets of our cities. Think of the television pictures of refugees."

Rev David Gamble reminded people to consider the hungry, the hurting, the oppressed and the abused this Christmas.

"That's the central part of the Christmas message," he said. "God is with us. And behind and within the lovely Christmas story is the truth of God with us in our world and in our lives."

The full text follows:

"I wonder how we shall remember Christmas 2009?I have to admit that I don't always remember Christmas for very Christmassy reasons. Sometimes it is things to do with home or family.

"For example, 1995 was the Christmas we got a new cooker. It was delivered at the beginning of December. Eventually someone came to disconnect the old one on the morning of Christmas Eve, which seemed like good news, but wasn't so good at 3.00 in the afternoon when still no one had come to connect the new one. They did come eventually - but not until very late.

"Or I remember Christmas 1988. My wife, Liz, was pregnant and our baby was due in the middle of March. But then, just after Christmas, Liz went into hospital and our son, Joe, arrived two months early. When they came home at the beginning of March, I'd been so busy going to work, taking family members hospital visiting, doing the washing and so on, that the Christmas decorations were still up.

"Or 1980, when my mum, who was housebound, asked to be taken out Christmas shopping on the last weekend in October. She bought and wrapped all our presents. The next day she contracted pneumonia and she died on the Monday. We opened her presents on Christmas Day. Many people associate Christmas with the death of someone special to them.

"Other memories relate to work. In my first Circuit I was chaplain to an open prison for women. One Christmas we took a small group from the prison carol singing around the local village. Unfortunately, when we got back the group was one short!

"So, many Christmas memories don't seem to have much to do with the Christmas story itself. They're not about the carols or the Christmas Day sermon, but about things - happy and sad - that were going on in our lives and the world at the time. Who will ever forget Christmas 2004, when, in the middle of the season of goodwill, the tsunami struck?

"But that is part of the paradox of this time of the year. On the one hand is the Christmas story, which we like hearing again and again. On the other hand we have the real world; things going on for us, our neighbours and friends; things on the news, new cookers not turning up, people in prison, people being born too soon, people being ill, or dying. The real world.

"But that's the whole point! Christmas is actually much more about the real world than it is about a lovely story of far off places in far off times.

"It's about a young unmarried mother. And our country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the European Union. It's about a homeless couple and their young child out in the cold. Look on the streets of our cities. Think of the television pictures of refugees.

"It's about shepherds who didn't go to church and weren't all that respectable being there to witness how God was doing something new - while the churchgoers and the religious leaders weren't there.

"It's about wise men looking for a new king and finding him not in a palace but behind a pub.

"It's about Mary and Joseph having to escape with their baby, as sanctuary seekers. Who is to say they wouldn't have been desperate enough to hide themselves in the back of a lorry coming through the channel tunnel in their attempt to save their precious son? And what kind of a welcome would they have received here in 21st Century Britain? And for those who didn't escape, it's about innocent children being brutally killed. You don't get much more real than that! And for Bethlehem in 2009 you could also read Baghdad or Afghanistan.

"Christmas is about the real world - as we know it. And it's in that real world - at times very cruel, painful and dangerous - that God acts. Not in heaven. Not even in the temple. But right in the middle of human life at its toughest. People being born, people dying, people on the run, people with nowhere to go, people for whom there is no room.

"Remember the meaning of the name Immanuel in Isaiah's prophecy? God is with us. That's the central part of the Christmas message. God is with us. And behind and within the lovely Christmas story is the truth of God with us in our world and in our lives. In good parts and bad, joys and pains, hopes and fears.

"Remember, too, that some people won't be able to suspend normal life for a few days over Christmas. If you are literally starving; if you are a refugee or a sanctuary seeker; if you are a child being abused in your own home, worried sick that your dad's going to be around more over the next few days - you can't suspend normal life, however much you'd like to.

"If the gospel is really the good news it claims to be (and I believe it is) then it has to be good news for the hungry, the hurting, the oppressed, the abused. Good news. God is with us.

"Sharing that good news is a huge challenge - but it's also our great joy. God be with you."

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