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Christmas – can it be true?

We’re determined to make the most of Richard Underwood before he retires this week, so we asked him to write this year’s Christmas message! Richard says our public ministry will only flourish in 2018 if we take time to ponder the truth of the Incarnation personally. Happy Christmas!

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The soap operas are the battleground where the BBC and ITV slug it out for the Christmas television ratings. Have you ever wondered why the soaps are so popular? Perhaps they portray – in the safety of the screen – the kinds of situations many folk find themselves in every day.

Should this character keep her baby or have an abortion? Should X move in with Y? Can A trust B? The characters change, but the plot never does.

Just what potential there is in the Christmas story for a stunning seasonal soap! Mary getting pregnant before she’s married. Should Joseph marry her or end the relationship now? A stable becoming an emergency labour ward. Shepherds claiming an extra-terrestrial experience. All the ingredients are here.

But there’s one difference – while the TV soaps claim to be true-to-life; the Christmas story is true.

But can it be?

It’s a question that must trouble Mary. Just imagine how she feels when the Angel Gabriel appears: Greetings you who are highly favoured. The Lord is with you. The news that she’s to give birth to the Son of the Most High is enough to take the wind out of any young woman’s sails. I mean, she isn’t even married. It’s a bit like winning the National Lottery when you haven’t bought a ticket.

Can it be true?

Then there’s the long unplanned trip to Bethlehem. Where is Bethlehem? For Mary, it means total disruption… massive inconvenience… considerable discomfort. But hey, aren’t they the lights of the town showing up on the horizon, warm and reassuring? “Not much further now” reassures Joseph. “We’ll stop at the first hotel we come to.”

But there is only one hotel in town – and tonight it’s booked-out. Which means Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus in the basement where the animals sleep. A feeding trough for his bed.

Can it be true?

And then there’s a knock outside. A weather-beaten face peeps round the creaking door. “Sorry, sir… ma’am. We’re shepherds from up on the hills. Is this the right place to find a baby?”

“Come in, come in” says Joseph cheerily. “But how did you know we’d be here?” asks Mary, quietly. “It’s just like the angel told us” say the shepherds. “You’ll find the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

Isn’t that exactly what Mary needs to hear? It must be true. Luke puts it like this: Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

I guess Mary doesn’t get a lot of sleep. She turns it over again and again. No, God’s plans aren’t falling apart; he’s got it covered, after all. And as she finally slips off to sleep, she has the answer to her question.

Yes, it is true!

There’ll be a lot more to ponder before Mary’s finished…

  • Simeon’s words in the temple: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel… And a sword will pierce your own soul too;
  • the day when the youthful Jesus stays behind in the Temple and she realises he’s marching to a different drum;
  • the day he leaves home. There are the crowds… the claims… the criticism. Why can’t he get a proper job like Joseph?
  • the day he’s arrested, tried and finally led out to be crucified. Crucified! Mary will never forget the day that breaks her heart.

Treasuring and pondering. She doesn’t just turn these things over in her mind; she embraces them in her heart. She makes them her own.

2000 years on, we face the same question.

We live in a fallen world of famines and floods… riots and revolutions. But it’s not only fallen; it’s hostile. Dark forces are at still work opposing Mary’s son. And there are times when we ask: can it be true?

Yes, it is true.

But as we face 2018, we’ll only have the strength to serve the Lord Jesus in public if we take the time to treasure him and ponder the truth about him in private.

Richard Underwood photo
Richard Underwood - FIEC Pastoral Ministries Director

Richard is married to Pippa and they have two grown-up children. He loves (watching) sport, walking and “extreme reading” (that’s an extremely good book in an extremely comfortable chair!).


Follow Richard Underwood on Twitter – @Richard_J_U