Charles Dickens famously begins his novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with the words, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'
This year has taken us into all of the places that Dickens goes on to describe, and more, and here at Southwark Cathedral we have shared in the emotions and the pain that exposure to the worst aspects of what we can do to each other produces. The terror attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market in June was one aspect of this year that saw other attacks in London and Manchester, horrific fire at Grenfell Tower, natural disasters around the world and man-made agony in so many places.
But it is not the only story that we can tell. In each of those episodes we have seen the best of human nature, the best of communities working together, the best of faith communities witnessing to a better way, the best of who we are called to be in London and beyond.
The Christian experience of God draws us into the Christmas story. It is presented so often as something of innocent beauty, angels and shepherds, mangers and wise men. But the reality is much grittier than that. A girl, unmarried and pregnant, away from home and with no where to stay. The pain of a birth in a borrowed room. The flight from a capricious and dangerous political leader. Life as a refugee family in a foreign land always seeking a return home. But like a beautiful thread, love runs through it all – the love of Joseph for Mary, the love of the parents for the child, the love of strangers at the crib, the love of God manifested for all to hold and see.
Christina Rossetti wrote a poem which is sometimes sung around this season. It’s called ‘Love came down at Christmas’ and it finishes like this.
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
It is that divine love and that love made known in the world which will defeat all hatred and all terror. That is what Christmas is about – and in her arms, Mary holds out to us the sign of God’s love, Jesus.
Have a very happy Christmas.