Hope at Christmas: God with us

Rt Rev Dr David Bruce

21.12.2021 | 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 the hope that springs from God’s coming to be with us in Christ.


What is it with God? Master of all that is. Supreme in power. Unapproachable in perfection. Isn’t being God enough? But something within God would not rest. There is something in God which drives him into relationship - and this “something”, is personhood.

The most obvious place to catch a glimpse of this is in the very mystery of his being – one God in three persons. Three Persons, deeply related. Profoundly and perfectly committed, Father, Son and Spirit. But our story suggests that even though this three-way relationship was perfect in every way, God wanted more.

The extraordinary fact at the heart of Christmas is a fact about God. That God was determined to relate further. That he would step out, open the door and invite others into his perfect Father-Son-Spirit family. That He would not rest until this was done. That the time for resting was not yet. The One who, in his Being is the perfect relationship, wanted to relate with others. Like an impatient son of the family, thinking about a bride who could be with him always, so the thought grew.

And so the decision was made to create. Billions of galaxies and solar systems and planets were made – and among them all a particular planet was identified and on this planet, a garden teeming with life of all kinds was cultivated. Finally one who resembled him in so many ways was placed at the heart of the garden – paradise indeed! God was with his human creation in the garden. Their fellowship together was perfect, and God rested at the end of it all. Mission accomplished.

God With

Blog_Hope_Mod2-(1).jpgCreation was first and foremost an act of love. It happened out of God’s unquenchable thirst for relationship. But that’s the thing about love. It’s risky. It can be as easily rejected as accepted. And we rejected it in spectacular style. We can argue about the meaning of the elements in the biblical story – the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the role of Eve as against Adam, and we can debate about the slithering presence of the snake, and the angel guarding the pathway back to paradise. But we can’t argue with murder, lies, mistrust and corruption which, within moments had polluted us, and became our story – and of course poisoned the very relationship which was at the heart of the whole adventure to start with. God’s grand invitation to a loving relationship with us had been spurned in a self-centred moment of hubris. We over-reached ourselves and forgot ourselves and imagined that we were more than we are. We imagined that the gracious invitation to intimate fellowship with God was an opportunity for us to take over from him. And so we moved in to a position we were never invited to occupy.

This dire situation called for desperate measures, although measures which were entirely of the same kind as the original decision to create. God himself would come to be with us. We who were broken, rebellious, habitually lying, murderous, selfish, inflated and conceited. But still he would come to be with us – not to undo what he had done in the first place – but to re-love us, to re-claim us, to re-covenant with us so that for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there might be a pathway back to paradise. God’s motive in sending his Son to win us back was love. It was bold and

daring and audacious, but fundamentally it was an act of love. God’s means in sending his Son to win us back was sacrifice – hard won; costly; a sacrifice of the just for the unjust. In a word, it was grace.

God With Us

Christmas is a celebration of God’s love. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’ (John 3:16). I wonder if this is, in part, why 21st century Irish culture finds it easier to trivialise or sentimentalise, or commercialise Christmas than to grapple with its astonishing power. In fact it might be more consistent for our culture to secularise it altogether, than to muddle along paying confused lip-service to an ancient story no longer respected, much less believed.

To give love is one thing. To receive it is another. To receive it well, so that it becomes the means of our release is truly a gift. For we find it a strange thing to give and receive love with grace, expecting nothing in return, when our society has been structured around centuries of mistrust and division, of checks and balances, of trades and treaties. And in this era when our future is turning on the sixpence of decisions taken about national pride and independence and increasing isolation from “the other”, words of invitation to join with God in his family seem to be uncomfortably out of step with history.

Jesus coming to us was not based on us getting our act together and measuring up. It was an act of rescue for the desperate, an offer of blessing for the hopeless, an invitation to belong for the fiercely independent, an act of mercy for the offender, an act of love for the unlovely, an act of grace to us all.

The response of our culture to such unrestricted love might be to ask, perhaps cynically, “What’s in it for him?” To ask such a question suggests that we have long forgotten the Good News. To help Ireland remember it again is now the task of those of us who have been captivated by its splendour.

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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