Methodist President’s Christmas Message

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

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

"It's about a young unmarried mother," he said. "And our countryhas 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 picturesof refugees."

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

"That's the central part of the Christmas message," he said. "Godis with us. And behind and within the lovely Christmas story is thetruth 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 thatI 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 wasdelivered at the beginning of December. Eventually someone came todisconnect the old one on the morning of Christmas Eve, whichseemed like good news, but wasn't so good at 3.00 in the afternoonwhen still no one had come to connect the new one. They did comeeventually - but not until very late.

"Or I remember Christmas 1988. My wife, Liz, was pregnant and ourbaby was due in the middle of March. But then, just afterChristmas, Liz went into hospital and our son, Joe, arrived twomonths early. When they came home at the beginning of March, I'dbeen so busy going to work, taking family members hospitalvisiting, doing the washing and so on, that the Christmasdecorations were still up.

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

"Other memories relate to work. In my first Circuit I was chaplainto an open prison for women. One Christmas we took a small groupfrom 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 theChristmas story itself. They're not about the carols or theChristmas Day sermon, but about things - happy and sad - that weregoing on in our lives and the world at the time. Who will everforget Christmas 2004, when, in the middle of the season ofgoodwill, the tsunami struck?

"But that is part of the paradox of this time of the year. On theone hand is the Christmas story, which we like hearing again andagain. On the other hand we have the real world; things going onfor us, our neighbours and friends; things on the news, new cookersnot 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 aboutthe real world than it is about a lovely story of far off places infar off times.

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

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

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

"It's about Mary and Joseph having to escape with their baby, assanctuary seekers. Who is to say they wouldn't have been desperateenough to hide themselves in the back of a lorry coming through thechannel tunnel in their attempt to save their precious son? Andwhat kind of a welcome would they have received here in 21stCentury Britain? And for those who didn't escape, it's aboutinnocent children being brutally killed. You don't get much morereal than that! And for Bethlehem in 2009 you could also readBaghdad or Afghanistan.

"Christmas is about the real world - as we know it. And it's inthat real world - at times very cruel, painful and dangerous - thatGod acts. Not in heaven. Not even in the temple. But right in themiddle of human life at its toughest. People being born, peopledying, people on the run, people with nowhere to go, people forwhom 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 isthe truth of God with us in our world and in our lives. In goodparts and bad, joys and pains, hopes and fears.

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

"If the gospel is really the good news it claims to be (and Ibelieve it is) then it has to be good news for the hungry, thehurting, the oppressed, the abused. Good news. God is withus.

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