Yesterday I went with my family to a carol service at Lambeth Palace, where I was asked to share a short reflection entitled ‘This Christmas’, which was ably read by my youngest sister Jemima. This is what I wrote:
This Christmas is best seen through the lens of last Christmas. And what a contrast. Whilst some of you were sat here for this beautiful service, I was joining online from home, where I have spent significant amounts of the past two years shielding. It’s such a joy to be here with my family today.
Things have changed for me personally, but also nationally and internationally, most notably the tragic war in Ukraine. Wonderfully God in his mercy is unchanging, as we return to the comfort and challenge of the Christmas story.
Whilst revisiting the narrative this year, I was struck by the significance of the census, in the way God worked through the seemingly indestructible power of Rome, to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to fulfill a prophecy. Why was a Roman governor so concerned with people being counted in their Hebraic family lines? Mary and Joseph can’t have been the only people who needed to travel some distance to register.
Maybe it was just that. The desire of the Roman empire to exert control over its subjects like pawns in a chess game. Echoes in images this year of thousands of refugees fleeing their homeland due to the desire of one man to control a nation that doesn’t belong to him.
A census reduces people to a number, a category, a label. And I know first hand that being defined by a label can rob you of your individuality; in my case that meant not being taught to read and write because of assumptions made about me based on a label I was yoked with. Its why I set up my charity Teach Us Too.
In contrast to the macro power wielded by a roman governor, we have a story of God concerned with intimate individual encounters. A teenage girl, a carpenter, an old woman past child bearing age, a priest, shepherds outcast in society, wise men from a foreign country. How might God’s story interweave with individuals today?
Our own census results for England and Wales show a decline in the number of people ticking the religion box. At school I joined a diversity, equity and inclusion meeting, and to many people’s surprise I chose the religion rather than disability group. The surprise for me was that most of the participants hadn’t thought about the difference between faith and religion. It led to me sharing my personal journey with Jesus in assemblies the following week.
In a world which dehumanises and devalues people, how can we find for ourselves and those around us the time and space for an individual encounter with Immanuel, God with us.