Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Dr. Ken Good, hopes people will continue to “extend a hand of friendship” in the next twelve months.
The popular Christmas Carol, ‘Once in royal’, was written by one of our own great literary heroes in the North West, Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, wife of a former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. This is worth remembering in this City of Culture Year.
Her carol speaks of Jesus’ precarious birth in Bethlehem’s ‘cattle shed’ with ‘a manger for his bed’, of the ‘Saviour holy’ who chose to identify with us ‘the poor, the mean and lowly’.
It talks of how he took the risk of becoming a vulnerable human, experiencing the pain of our human condition. All so that he could offer love and forgiveness, freedom and reconciliation.
The carol goes on to remind us that ‘our eyes at last will see him’ again, ‘not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by’, but in his glory and majesty at the end of time.
When that happens, wrongs will be put right, death, tears and pain will be no more, the justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace of his kingdom will prevail.
During Advent and Christmas, we eagerly look forward to the arrival of Jesus – his coming both at Bethlehem and at the end of time. We are encouraged to look up, to lift our gaze beyond our own troubles and anxieties so that we come to see our lives as part of that much bigger picture, that far larger purpose - God’s richer canvas.
His loving plan, which brings meaning and direction and purpose to all of our lives, was all made possible because he took that greatest of all risks, when ‘he came down to earth from heaven, who is God an Lord of all.’
Taking the initiative in reaching out across barriers that divide; taking a risk in being vulnerable and open to rejection; being willing to offer forgiveness and reconciliation, to extend a hand of friendship – even when one’s motivation is misunderstood or one’s initiative is rejected - these are key ideas that we are grappling with, and I believe, have made further progress with in 2013.
These very same Christmas motivations were at the heart of the breath-taking initiative that took place ‘Once,… in royal David’s city.’
As I wish you a special Christmas and a blessed New Year, I trust that you will have the opportunity to join with others in worship and, maybe, even to sing Mrs Alexander’s great carol with a renewed sense of God’s love and the hope he offers.