by Bishop John Wilson
It was a great blessing for me to lead this year’s diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land. At the time of writing, I have been back for just a few days. The sights and experiences are fresh in my mind and heart. Not least among them is the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth which marks where the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to conceive the Son of God. And with it is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marking where the Lord Jesus was born. These are especially poignant places as we move through Advent towards Christmas.
Since coming home, I have been asked a number of times what struck me most about my visit. Of course, many things stand out. Perhaps, above all, I feel I have a deepened sense of what it means for God to have walked the earth, to have become a human being in Jesus.
Sitting by the Galilee seashore where Jesus called his first apostles. Visiting Bethany, the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Standing in Capernaum, imagining the synagogue where he prayed and taught. All this, and more, reinforces the radical truth that our God is not distant from us. Our God became human and was born in Bethlehem. A star in the floor signals where Jesus, true God and true man, wriggled and gurgled as a tiny newborn. This baby is Emmanuel, God with us.
In the Grotto under the Church of the Annunciation there is an inscription on the altar. It reads: Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est: the Word was made flesh here. Our faith is rooted in an event. The Word taking flesh, God becoming human, happened at a specific time in a specific place. It was not random or haphazard. What had been foretold was fulfilled according to God’s loving plan.
This specificity is true for us. We are each created by God. He has a plan for our life. There is a purpose for our existence. We have a unique niche is God’s unfolding of history. We are loved and precious, here and now, in the particular details of our biography.
Some of the earliest Christian thinkers wrote that, in Christ, God entered our humanity so that we might share his divinity. As one Christmas Carol puts it, Jesus is born so we ‘no more may die,’ born to raise the children of earth, born to give us ‘second birth.’ We have a hope in Jesus, a hope for each other, a hope for our world, a hope of justice, peace and joy.
To you and your loved ones every blessing for Christmas and 2019.