Methodist President's Christmas message

In his Christmas message, the Revd Dr Mark Wakelin, President ofthe Methodist Conference, urges people to discover a "vulnerableGod" in Jesus this festive season.

The full text of the message follows:

"Truly this was the Son of God!

"I was asked once by a well-known broadcaster, 'do you believethat Jesus is the Son of God?' I replied, as you do, by asking him,'it depends on what you mean by, 'Son of God.'  His replyshook me because he then said, 'It's a perfectly simple question,'Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?' My own thought was immediately,'I wonder which bit of 'Son of God' he is finding simple?'

"I presume he meant do I believe in a literal way? But that ishardly simple. Literal language is OK for baked beans and possiblysunsets, but it gets a bit thin when talking about most of thethings that really matter such as love, sadness and wonder. It runsout of steam totally when talking of God. You can't say anythingliteral about God! 

"I was once in an argument about the new hymn book (I am afraidI get a bit grumpy about some of the alterations to ancient poemsthat we make and think that our desire to modernise the old is alittle like the Christians who wanted to cover the modesty of thepaintings in the Sistine Chapel). My colleague disliked the word'ineffable' because he felt no one would understand it. There is acertain irony in that as you can imagine! Given that 'ineffable'basically means something we can't understand, I would have thoughtit was a useful word to hang on to if we also want to talk aboutGod. God is 'ineffable' - and that's the point. 

"That's the point of Christmas. How does God communicate with uswhen words are not adequate? How can we even try to talk of Godwhen literal language so lets us down? God's answer is, of course,the 'self sending' - of a God who in Charles Wesley's words is,'contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.' What we can everunderstand of God has to begin by taking account of God revealed inthe person of Jesus Christ. Who is written about in Colossians1:15: 'He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of allcreation' and verse 19: 'For in him all the fullness of God waspleased to dwell.' 

"The 'Word' is God, says John. Now this isn't simple languageeither, but it directs you to a kind of struggle to understandthat is different from, for example, trying to get your headaround Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity! Because it is truthrevealed and held in a person, understanding and engaging with thattruth is as much about love and obedience as it is aboutintellectual capacity and linguistic dexterity. We are not so muchasked to assent to a philosophical or religious claim, 'yes I agreethat Jesus is the Son of God,' but inhabit a story, the Christmasstory, to live within ancient tale of human struggle and courage,of wonder and delight, of mystery and of angels declaring goodnews. Children get this much more easily than adults who want thewhys and the wherefores of an extraordinary story which is far morethan an odd biological claim on the Universe.

"Do I believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Of course, wonder ofwonders, 'Let earth and heaven combine, angels and men agree, topraise in songs divine the incarnate deity.' I inhabit this ancientstory and find it to be true. Wrapped in our clay we may notimmediately recognise the creator of all things. But it is our lifetask, to discover a vulnerable God who is on a mission to finishthe 'new creation' and is looking for followers.

"Happy Christmas!"

An audio version of the President's Christmas message isavailable online here