"Uncertainty and loss of control is also the world into which Jesus was born" - Bishop Viv's Christmas message

First published 22nd December 2021

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol, gave her Christmas message live on BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Radio Wiltshire. You can listen back here (from around 2.45.14) or read it below.

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” 

Those are words of a Middle Eastern performance poet to his community. He continued:  “Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death on them light has shined.” 

Those are words which are familiar from carol services, and the glow of candlelight and lovely singing. But these words were first heard by the people of a small nation continually squeezed by great powers. And these people were being told that rather than make an alliance with neighbours they should remember God’s covenant with them that even when the darkness got deeper and deeper and they were under great threat. Even when that threat meant they would be enslaved and taken into exile. Even in the worst events, the light would not be snuffed out. The people who lived in the valley of the shadow of death on them light has shined.  

Perhaps that fits where we are this Christmas. After last year’s isolation and separation and the ongoing threat of death, the vaccines and the summer brought us some normality. But now in mid-winter 2021 we again face renewed uncertainty and the loss of control which has become the new normal.

But that is the world of the prophet Isaiah who affirmed the certainty of the light shining out.

That uncertainty and loss of control is also the world into which Jesus was born. A world of military occupation, of imperial control, of endemic disease, of sky-high infant mortality rates and a baby born in an outhouse. A world where the ones who saw the light shining were not those comfortable at home, nor faithful Israelites in the temple but those working through the night and living on the margins, and pagan foreigners travelling to find the truth they could live by. And by Joseph and Mary, a distinctly odd couple. 

That is the message of Christmas. Jesus was born into the messiness and risk of the world not so we could escape into sentimentality or the perfection of the advertisers, but so that we can dig deep in darkest times, stick it out when we are face to face with darkness and in the shadow of death and, right there, see the first glimmer of light.  

So that even when we feel we have lost the Christmas we longed for so much we discover to our surprise that we have found an even deeper comfort and joy. May God bless you with light of Christ shining in the darkness and keep you safe these pandemic days and always. 

Image: credit Chris Dobson

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