Hope at Christmas: A people of welcome

Rev Dr David Bruce

7.12.2021 | Congregational Life, Moderator, Christmas

Hope at Christmas is this year’s PCI Christmas theme intended to help us celebrate the coming of Jesus among us as our Saviour. After another difficult and challenging year for society including our churches, so it is important to acknowledge the hope we have as Christians and to share this message of joy far and wide. The Moderator, Rt Rev David Bruce, reflects on hope’s welcome in Christ.

A people of welcome

Being a refugee is an awful thing. Try to imagine. Your home has been burned to the ground. Your family has either been murdered or uprooted, and you have taken to the road in fear. Your plans have gone up in smoke along with your personal papers and prospects. Your children are hungry and your feet are sore. The pain in your heart is immense as this unwelcome journey away from your heartland begins. You could be an Afghan believer fleeing today, or a Hebrew family on the road to Babylon almost 600 years before the birth of Christ.

Life in a desolate place

Blog_Hope_1-(1).jpgThen you arrive at your destination – or at least you arrive somewhere. The cities are strange and the language these foreigners speak is impossible to understand. The people are hostile to you. They have a nickname for you – “the deserted ones”. They tease you by calling the homeland you have left behind, “the desolate place”. They debate among themselves if you are even welcome, or if there are too many of you. Before long you feel the sharp sting of racism. They goad you to sing and dance, and even though you used to love these things, now they feel like a betrayal. All you can do is weep. Everything within you says “This is wrong!” More than anything else, you want to go back home. But back home is just a fading photograph.

Years go by - decades in fact. The lives of these travellers have been deeply and permanently damaged. And we are forced to ask, “Where has God been?”

God’s comfort promised

And so God speaks to his refugee nation. He says to his Hebrew exiles with deep compassion:

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

(Isaiah 40:1-8)

“Comfort, comfort my people…” God tells his loved ones their punishment is complete. They have received at the Lord’s hand, double for all their sins. And this is good news. But then the news takes a twist. He speaks of one calling in the desert that a way must be prepared, because someone is coming. This person is so important, squads of workers and civil engineers must be commissioned to fill in valleys and level mountains. This was the kind of treatment reserved for kings. “Well”, says God through Isaiah, “Look out! Such a king is coming your way. He will be the one to bring your suffering to an end. He will be your deliverer. He will be my servant.”

An unlikely saviour

Now hold on. Don’t jump to Christmas. The answer isn’t Jesus. Not yet.

The identity of this king is a total surprise, because he is a pagan. His name is Cyrus, and he is from the east – Persia to be precise – a place of star gazers, astrologers and mediums who do all kinds of forbidden things. How can it be that a good and holy God could use such an ungodly king to end the refugee wanderings of his people? But Isaiah explains, “All people are like grass” – it withers and falls because the Lord says it should. This is everyone’s story – whether they honour God or not. God can use whomever he pleases to fulfil his purposes, because he is the Lord. He can even use a pagan king. Cyrus’ unlikely role as God’s servant in this drama is then told.

“Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him.” (Isaiah 41:2)

“I have stirred up one from the north and he comes [Babylon] – One from the rising sun who calls on my name [Cyrus]. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if they were a potter treading the clay.” (Isaiah 41:25) [my brackets]

Now to Christmas

So, now we need to think about Christmas. The servant king who comes in weakness is personalised in a way that goes far beyond Cyrus, King of Persia who came in strength. Politically Cyrus would head up the greatest empire in human history. But that is nothing to what this suffering servant described in Isaiah Chapters 52 and 53 would achieve. There really is only one way to read these words, which is through the lens of faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Look again:



A man of sorrows.



Pierced for our transgressions.

Through his wounds, we are healed.

The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Like a lamb. Led to be slaughtered.


How those early readers must have puzzled over what this could mean!

Centuries would pass and then wise men would come from the east – from Cyrus’ old country. They were pagans, star gazers, astrologers, doing the very things that God said we shouldn’t. They honoured a baby boy with their carefully chosen gifts.

Everything they did was under his complete mastery. It’s not that God approves of their superstitious ways, but he never stops ruling them.

Then, like a root out of parched, scorched ground – a living branch from an old unlikely stump, this honoured boy grew up. He wasn’t a king – he was a servant. He wasn’t wealthy – he was a pauper. He wasn’t a muscle-bound super-hero – he was weakness itself. There was nothing impressive to see about him. Like a lamb, chosen for slaughter at sacrifice, he went obediently to death. Did he deserve it? Certainly not, for he had done no wrong nor was any deceit in his mouth. And here is the hardest part.

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53:10)

“That’s my boy”

How can we live with such a thought as this?

Most parents are irrationally proud of their children. Each child is different. If one is musical, another is theatrical. If one is a scholar, another is an athlete. When a proud dad sees his son do something really well, his chest swells as he boasts to his friends, “That’s my boy!” Could it be that the Father looked upon his Son on the cross, taking the sin of the world upon himself, punished, broken, crushed and beaten for us, and through his grief stumbled the thought “That’s my boy – for this you were born”? God leads his people through hard places to the best place of all. Expect it. It’s what happens.

In Jesus’ name, you are welcome here

And so to those from the east, displaced, travelling, weary and wounded and soon to arrive among us in Ireland, we say “Welcome”. In Jesus’ name you are welcome here. Your story has been horrible, but God is still good. Your home has been taken away from you, but here is another. You must wonder what the future holds for you. So do we, but understand this. We will not pass by, or ignore you on the street, or ask you to sing and dance, or be embarrassed when you weep. Your story has been centuries in the telling. It is our story too. In Jesus’ name, you are welcome here.

HopeAtChristmas_Homepage600x417.jpgHope at Christmas is this year’s PCI Christmas theme intended to help us celebrate the coming of Jesus among us as our Saviour.

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