Category Archives: Cultural Comment

The Easter Mystery

Over the last few years, the Meaningful Chocolate Company has been selling what it calls the Real Easter Egg.  There are a number of features of this egg that set it apart from the others on the market.  First of all, it’s made with FairTrade chocolate.  This means that the people who grow the cocoa beans are being paid a fair wage for their labour.  Furthermore, their communities are being helped because the proceeds of a small premium added to the price of each egg are spent on a community project like a school or a well.  There are other FairTrade eggs, of course, but this is a good selling point for anyone with a conscience.

Secondly, a percentage of the profit is given to charity.  This is very rare, if not completely unique.  From egg sales since 2011, the company has donated over £40,000 to different worthy causes.  For a start, there are regular gifts to Traidcraft Exchange, a development charity which helps small-scale farmers and producers all over the world.  In addition to this, money has been given to Baby Lifeline, The Leprosy Mission, and Christians Against Poverty.  This latter organisation is a national charity working across the UK to lift people out of debt and poverty, offering free debt counselling through a network of 252 debt centres based in local churches.  You might like to know that Christ Church Ware is one of those churches – help really is “at hand” in these financially troubling times.  Buying a Real Easter Egg really does produce all kinds of ripples of good in this country and overseas.

But the third aspect is what makes this egg the Real Easter Egg; it has the Easter story on or in the box.  The company’s founder wrote recently, “When we first revealed the Real Easter Egg, I was asked by a journalist, ‘What’s Easter got to do with the church?’ I had to explain that Easter is in fact a religious festival and not owned by Cadbury!  This year, The Real Easter Egg radio advert was rejected by the radio authority.  They seemed unsure if Easter was Christian and so wanted our advert to say that our eggs had a copy of the ‘Easter Christian story’ in the box.  We argued the point and they have decided that, ‘on balance’, Easter is a well-known Christian festival.” 

But it’s less well known than it was.  In March 2005, the Daily Mail reported that just 48% of British people questioned said that Easter was about the Resurrection of Christ.  Two years later, on 3rd April 2007, a press release from Somerfield supermarket declared, “Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone.  But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the birth of Jesus…” (My emphasis)  This was later corrected to read ‘the rebirth’ of Christ, and then, after consultation with the Church of England, a third version correctly identified that Easter celebrated the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

There’s no doubt about it; ignorance of the world-changing story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is increasing in what has historically been recognised as a Christian country.  Will you be celebrating it this year?  What example does your practice set to your children and grandchildren?  There are plenty of church events, and everyone is most welcome…

Clearing up after Christ-mas

Occasionally I receive feedback on what I publish. It would appear that my article The Reason for the Season caused a little consternation.  I’m sorry for the confusion.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t explain myself, but the feedback indicates to me that sufficient numbers of people found my words rather strange or concerning to make me feel that perhaps I should shed some light on the subject so people are not unnecessarily upset.  I say “unnecessarily” because if this article clears up the mystery for them and they are then disturbed by the clear message, then perhaps it is ultimately a good thing that they be unsettled!  (It is not my job to say what everyone wants me to say, but rather to bear faithful witness to Jesus who came 2000 years ago as Saviour and who will come again as Judge.)

So, what caused grief for readers?  Well, in conversation with one person, I realised that the non-word “mas” that I used over and over again sounds rather like “mass”, which is a Roman Catholic form of worship.  But I wasn’t making any point either in favour of or against Roman Catholicism.  The clue to the interpretation of the article is not connected with the “mas” bit at all.  In fact, the clue is in the question, “What did I leave out?”

On twenty-two separate occasions, I referred to Christmas as “mas”, thus leaving out the first six letters of the full word that readers might have expected to see.  I wrote about “mas”, leaving out “Christ”.  I talked about all of the trappings of our usual celebrations of Christmas but I left out Christ.  And I suggested that in the same way as this was rather ridiculous for my magazine article, so any celebration of Christmas which left out Christ would be equally ridiculous.  Let’s face it, Christmas starts with Christ!

Yet, in a ComRes poll from December 2010, 51% of the respondents agreed with the statement, “The birth of Jesus is irrelevant to my Christmas.”  This would indicate that over half the population of this “Christian” country have no interest in Christ Jesus at what is almost certainly the biggest Christian festival of the year.  When we overlay this with the results of the 2011 census, in which 59.3% of the population claimed to be Christian, we are left with the curious fact that around 8% of the population call themselves Christian yet see the birth of Jesus as irrelevant to their Christmas.  Now that is truly ridiculous!

My intention in the original article was not to confuse, but to cause people to think.  I also did not intend to offend (though I recognise that connecting the Christmas celebrations of 51% of the population and the word “ridiculous” may have had this effect).  On reflection, perhaps ridiculous is the wrong word: if the Christian claim that Jesus is Saviour and Judge is true, then dismissing his birth as irrelevant is more than ridiculous; it’s just asking for trouble.  And I, for one, would rather spare people that.

May the Christ of Christ-mas make you ready to meet him when he comes again.

Peace for Christmas

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Another year over…

John Lennon’s song, like all the other seasonal tunes, is regularly played on the radio.  But Lennon’s lyric has a little more about it than many of the other offerings (e.g. Roy Wood’s “When the snowman brings the snow…” or the children’s favourite “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer”).  It actually challenges us directly to take stock of our lives at Christmas time.  You won’t be surprised to know I think it’s a good challenge for us to consider.

But Christmas is too busy for us to think about the events of the year and the emotional impact they’ve had on us, isn’t it?  First of all there’s all the shopping to do, all the organising, wrapping, cooking, decorating and hosting.  Then, there’s all the clearing up, the falling out, the not-speaking and the thank-God-that’s-all-over-for-another-year-ing.  Finally, of course, there’s all the paying back the credit cards… which, depending on how extravagant we’ve been, may well bring us right back to where we are now!

The question, “How are you?” often elicits the response, “Fine, thanks … busy, but fine.”  Busy.  And the activity of the Christmas season only makes us busier, so stopping to reflect on the emotional journey of the last year is, quite frankly, just one more thing to do for which we do not have the time.  And here’s another one…

What have you done this year by way of pursuing a closer relationship with God?  (I put that in bold type to make sure you didn’t skip over it in your busy rush!)

The message of Christmas is clear: God chose to come close to us in Jesus.  It’s evidence that he is pursuing a closer relationship with all of us.  The Bible tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), and, “Jesus Christ … in very nature God … made himself nothing, being made in human likeness, … humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:6ff).  It is these verses (and others like them) which inspired one of the most famous and popular carols; “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.

My point is that if we stop even for a moment to consider just how far he has gone to reach out to us (Immanuel means “God with us”), it should surely cause us to respond with love and worship.  So how do our efforts to reach out to him measure up?

So this is Christmas, and what have you done…?  Praise God he still reaches out to us despite our laziness and reluctance to honour him!

The Joy of Christmas

“Christmas-time is here, by golly,
disapproval would be folly,
deck the halls with hunks of holly…
Brother, here we go again!”

So sang the comic songwriter, Tom Lehrer, and I wonder how many of us feel the same way, at least sometimes.  Our nation seems to have a love-hate relationship with Christmas, and this, I am sure, is because of what it has become; an excuse to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need.

The pressures applied upon us by society are subtle: “it’s for the kids”, or “our family have always done this.”  We must join in or people will assume we are grumpy old Scrooges.  Because marketing departments promote Christmas as a time of goodwill and happiness, to opt out of their glitzy celebration is to be a miserable killjoy.  Because they assert it is a time of peace, any attempt to expose the shallowness of that peace is fraught with danger.  Disapproval would be folly – indeed!  Our national Christmas celebrations are precious, and to question their validity or helpfulness is to walk a minefield of sensitivities.

And yet I would rather walk that path than by driven by malignant forces of consumerism, materialism and pride.  I too want to assert that Christmas is precious, but for strikingly different reasons.  Despite what the adverts tell us, and what we may have come to believe, Christmas is not primarily a time for families, or for making extravagant gestures highlighting the love we have for one another.  It is first and foremost one celebration amongst many which tell of God’s amazing love for us.

From eternity, God saw how enslaved we were to the whims of the rich and powerful and to our own foolish pride.  He saw we were living only half a life, encumbered by worries, facing an uncertain future and frightened of death.  And he stepped in to rescue us from that oppression in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Christmas is a powerful celebration of God’s first-hand understanding of what it means to be human; in Christ Jesus, God became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

By giving us his Son, God has given us the opportunity of real peace; not the “grit-your-teeth-Aunt-Gertrude-will-be-gone-by-Boxing-Day” kind of peace.  In Jesus, he has given us real joy; not the plastic-grins of sound-activated dancing flowers or the short-lived, hangover-followed merriness of alcohol.  In Jesus he has set us free to be who he created us to be; free from dancing to another’s tune, free to live life in all its fullness with him as our loving Father.

Now that is some Christmas present.  And worth celebrating.  As we make our plans for this Christmas, amidst the noise of the advertisers who would use us to make money for them, so God is calling us to enjoy his freedom.  Will we listen?

Christmas Peace

Christmastime means different things to different people.  To some, it’s precious because the family will all gather together.  To others, it’s a fearful prospect because the family will all gather together!  Some people rejoice in the nostalgia that surrounds Christmas, and remember especially their own happy childhood times.  There’s wonder and joy, feasting and gladness and the giving and receiving of gifts; it is a good season to celebrate with friends and family.  Other people’s experience is tinged with sadness as they remember people with whom they no longer share Christmas because of distance, family rift or death.

Often people see Christmas as “the season of goodwill” where past hurts are laid aside and estranged people are brought together, hopefully not in a “grin-and-bear-it” way, but with real forgiveness which buries the past and looks forward to the future.  The reason for this is rooted in the story of Jesus, the Christ of Christ-mas.  At the most traditional “Carols by Candlelight” services, the Bible readings tell the Bible’s story briefly but well.  It begins with the fall of Adam, the rebellious decision of mankind to disobey God and to attempt to manage God’s world with no reference to its maker.  The healthy relationship between God and people is destroyed; there is no way that imperfect and finite human beings can ever repair their relationship with God who is infinite and perfect.  This is a massive problem.

Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah picks up the story; he says in 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  The people’s sin has led them further and further away from God, and they are in exile, experiencing His judgment, not His favour.  There is no way out.  Suddenly, a great light appears.  And what is that light?  Isaiah tells us in 9:6; “To us a child is born, to us a Son is given … He will be called … Prince of Peace.”

The birth of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas is the moment when God came to dwell amongst us to bring light into the darkness and to reconcile us to Himself.  God, who we have wronged by our pride, has offered to forgive us and make us His beloved children.  Some people jump at this chance; they recognise their lives are not perfect, they know they need forgiveness and they embrace Jesus with glad hearts like a shipwrecked sailor grasping at a life-ring.  Others are not convinced; the way they see things, they are perfectly good enough for God (if he even exists), so they pay little attention to Jesus, like a shipwrecked sailor hiding from the lifeboat crew as they survey the wreckage of his boat.

We tend to think Christmas is about presents and time with those we love, but it’s actually about reconciliation and forgiveness.  First, it is about God’s reconciliation with and forgiveness of those who have failed to love him.  Following on from and flowing out of that, it becomes a season in which people can be reconciled to one another.  How does our celebration of Christmas bear witness to either of these things?

God Willing

In an earlier entry I wrote about the song “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” and its underlying assumption that the world is governed by “The Fates.”  (“Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow.”)  In writing it I discovered that the words “if the Fates allow” were actually a replacement for “if the Lord allows.”  This brings a whole new angle to the debate, especially in the light of the change that we are seeing from Christendom’s BC and AD to the post-Christendom BCE and CE.  Originally, the song emanated from a Christian worldview, but the lyrics were changed to eliminate the Christian dimension because some people felt it was offensive.  And maybe it is offensive to some; the idea that “the Lord” might not allow something we hold dear.  Let us see…

Christians understand “the Lord” is the God of the Bible, variously described, including Jonah’s phrase, “The God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9) and God’s own words recorded by the prophet Isaiah (46:9), “I am God and there is no other.”  Being humble before such authority is surely entirely appropriate.  In the Bible book which bears his name, James (who describes himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”) encourages his readers to be humble before God and chastises them for being arrogant in their boastful planning.  He writes, “What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (Jas 4:14-15).  It is from him that we get the phrase, “God-willing,” and it is this idea which is being expressed in the original lyrics of the song.

Of course, we don’t hear people say, “God-willing” as much today as was once the case.  This almost certainly says something about our society and is entirely in keeping with the change from AD to CE.  Like the people to whom James was writing, we have grown proud, believing ourselves to be masters of our own destiny; we rely not on God, but on our money, our talents, our connections or our reputation to open doors for us and provide us with our every need.  In our so-called enlightened society, The-God-of-heaven-who-made-the-sea-and-the-dry-land has become at best an after-thought, and at worst, a swear-word.  We behave, not as servants of God like James, but as if we were gods ourselves – with the right to do just as we please.  No wonder we find offensive the idea that “the Lord” might stand in our way and confound our plans.  How dare he?  Just who does he think he is?

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus to Mary; a child born of a virgin, exiled to Egypt and raised by his adoptive father in the line of King David.  He made the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame leap.  Powerful men plotted against him, a friend betrayed him and false witnesses accused him.  Soldiers gambled for his clothes, he was mocked, beaten and crucified, though not one of his bones was broken.  Buried, he was raised to life on the third day.  All of this was prophesied in advance through the word of God.  Who then is the Lord?  He is the one who knows the end from the beginning, so we should approach him in great humility.  Yet Christmas also shows that He loves us deeply: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) – good news indeed, even for arrogant hearts!

Freedom from the Christmas Beast

Has your credit been crunched?  This period of financial instability and austerity continues to have mixed effects.  And Christmas just messes with people’s heads.

I recall watching a news report on the way the crisis is affecting people in our region.  In this report a young woman was being interviewed about the very real prospect of having her home repossessed by the bank.  Her anxiety was tangible, but never more so than when she raised the immanence of Christmas; “I’m managing to keep up mortgage repayments now,” she said, “but I don’t know what’ll happen when Christmas and all its extra expense comes round.”  My heart ached for her, but I must confess my sympathy was directed not at her financial need, but rather her enslavement.

She was on the brink of homelessness, facing the prospect of her family having to move out of the home she loved if she were to default on her mortgage payments.  Yet her comments seemed to suggest that extra expense brought about by the Christmas season was inescapable.  In her head was what seemed to her to be a genuine dilemma; “Which ‘bill’ shall I pay – the bill for the house or the bill for the Christmas celebrations?”

Clear thinking about her situation shows there is no contest; the mortgage must be paid, and Christmas luxuries can wait – forever if necessary.  It would be wrong-headed to put them in the same category as essential household bills.  If the young woman truly loves her family, she will surely hold back from spending on turkey and trimmings until she has guaranteed they’ll be able to stay in the house into the New Year; far better to be housed than to have a new flat-screen TV and nowhere to plug it in!  Her problem is the strong message being transmitted by the commercial world; “If you love your family you will buy them ….”  It’s a lie, but it’s on every street-corner, and it has been carefully set up to resonate with our heartbeat until we begin to believe it and it enslaves us.

It saddens me to see the impact of this lie upon peoples’ lives.  The consumerist culture we inhabit is so inhospitable and short of compassion.  Market forces feel no sympathy towards the people they lead on, and ultimately their promises of deep satisfaction prove shallow and empty.  Christmas comes at a dark time of the year, and commerce, whilst promising light, often ends up adding an extra layer to the darkness we experience.

In light of the current on-going difficulties in the world economy, perhaps now is a good time to re-evaluate the way we celebrate Christmas and give a mind to what is truly important.  If we are in any measure simply slaves to the system, it is my prayer that we would be like those mentioned in Isaiah 9:2; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  The good news of Christmas is that in Jesus Christ, his only Son, God has sent us a Saviour to free us from all that entangles and liberate us to be what he always intended us to be.  This is something in which we can, surely, confidently invest.

The Reason for the Season

Finally, December has arrived and the run up to mas can begin in earnest.  Obviously the shops have been tempting us with mas goodies for ages, vying for our attention in a competitive mas market.  In a flash overnight, the “Seasonal” aisles and displays that were bedecked with the orange and black of Hallowe’en have become all green and red with liberal sprinklings of fake snow; ugly skeletons and witches have given way to jolly old Father mas and his reindeer.  There’s no doubt about it; there is a jolliness in the mas season.  I used to work with someone who didn’t get particularly excited about it, but I’ve never met a proper Dickensian Scrooge.  Somewhere in the mas festivities, there seems to be something that appeals to most tastes.

For the consumers amongst us (from the smallest children who begin to modify their behaviour in anticipation of Father mas’ midnight journey, to the most senior citizen whose collection of mail-order catalogue nick-nacks rivals some small mail-order companies’ stock list!) there are the gifts – mas presents are popular with everyone.  Others take the opportunity to be givers rather than receivers; either generously giving mas presents to friends and family or helping with a charity of some sort – perhaps a homeless shelter, or Age-Concern centre, providing a mas meal for elderly neighbours who would otherwise be alone.  The traditional mas dinner is something that has wide-ranging appeal; we may not be overly keen on Brussels-sprouts, but there’s usually plenty of other stuff to satisfy our appetites.  And don’t we all look forward to mas pudding?

Then, there are the office mas parties which go down a treat with young employees who are happy to indulge themselves on the company’s tab.  The radio stations all start to play the familiar mas songs, and there’s the annual competition amongst recording artists to be the mas number one.  The postmen and women bring joy to us daily with sacks bulging with mas cards, and we send our own mas greetings to family and friends all over the world.  Then there’s the special bumper edition of the Radio Times which contains all the TV and radio listings for the whole mas fortnight – children and parents drawing rings round programmes they want to watch or record; special film premieres for mas Day itself.  For the nostalgic who like to remember years gone by, there are plenty of mas carols to sing – and if some community-minded person has organised a proper event out in the cold of a December evening, so much the better.  We could even watch it done “properly” from King’s College, Cambridge, or we could pootle down to a local church at some point and reconnect with the well-known story of the little donkey on the dusty road, the starlit stable, the shepherds and the wise men; there’s always something massy going on in the church at this time of year.

All in all, in my experience, mas is popular with pretty much everyone.  It’s a great celebration.  I confess that I love it myself – for nearly all the reasons above.  But I’ve completely left out of my article the main reason for the celebration.  How ridiculous is that?  Imagine if someone actually did that for real?!

Dad’s Taxi – a 21st Century Dilemma

I’m sure that many of you will know what it means to be “Dad’s Taxi.”  As my children have grown, this part of my identity has developed rapidly.  I’ve been driving my children around for years, of course, but it would appear to be true that the amount of driving does increase in proportion to the age of the child.  In one sense, it’s been fairly easy for me to accommodate my daughters’ increasing transport requirement because I work flexible hours.  However, my ability to be flexible presents its own unique problem – I have a serious gap in my arsenal of excuses!

Consider the parent who works nine-to-five, commutes a further hour at the beginning and end of every day and is afforded only four weeks annual leave.  The question, “It’s half-term; can you take me to the swimming pool / shopping centre on Wednesday lunchtime?” is fairly easily answered; “No – I’m at work!”  Whatever the request, such a parent has a fairly robust argument to employ if they are at all unsure about the wisdom of letting their child attend the function in question.

I don’t have that luxury.  So if I don’t want my children to go, for whatever reason, I can’t hide behind the convenient (albeit partially true) “I’m at work” excuse.  I have to give the proper reason. But actually, this is no bad thing.  After all, if I want them to forge relationships which are based on honesty, faithfulness and mutual respect, then I have to model that in my relationship with them.  So I have to be really clear in my own mind about what is good for my children.  I must make right judgments about allowing them to grow up at an appropriate speed and, above all, I must surely communicate my thinking with them in a way which doesn’t exasperate them (Eph 6:4) but which demonstrates my love.

So “Dad’s Taxi” is part of my identity, but it is inextricably related to my being “Dad.”  Indeed, if I were just “Taxi,” there would be something desperately wrong.  It is in my daughters’ best interests for me to be Dad first and Taxi second.  And that means I have to work out what it means to be a good dad.  So where do I look for guidance on this?

Christmas is coming when we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  He was brought up by Joseph (“a righteous man” – Matthew 1:19) as his own son, but the New Testament makes clear that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God.  He taught his disciples to call God “Our Father,” and the Apostle Paul wrote that, as we entrust our lives to Jesus, so we receive “the Spirit of sonship … by him we cry ‘Abba (Daddy), Father.’” (Romans 8:15)

I dare to suggest that, since God has revealed himself to be “Father,” in God’s world, surely the best way we can care for our children is to model that care on the Fatherhood of God.   And the best way of understanding the Fatherhood of God fully is surely from the perspective of a beloved child.  The joyful good news of Christmas is that we can experience this – “To those who received [Jesus] … he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12).  So have you received him?  Or are you just Taxi?

A Merry Little Christmas

Now that summer has gone (and come back again for one last hurrah, then properly disappeared at the sight of the snowflake symbol flashing on our dashboards), it’s definitely that “approaching Christmas” time of year again.  In fact, the TV adverts are already telling me that “It’s Christmas” (not just approaching Christmas!).  It surely won’t be long before the radios of the land will be beginning to play the usual festive tunes, and DJs will sound excitable and nostalgic all at the same time.  Noddy Holder and Roy Wood can look forward to another bumper royalties pay-out, as can George Michael’s erstwhile musical collaborator, Mr Ridgley, while shops and offices sway to the themes of Last Christmas.

Constant radio-play drills these songs into our heads.  Today’s children don’t know the National Anthem, or even some of the best traditional Christmas Carols, but you can be sure they know Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer’s special song!  Loads of these popular Christmas songs refer to nostalgia, winter weather and to the activities of one red-suited white-bearded gentleman with a supersonic sledge.  To find any reference to the Christ of Christ-mas you’d probably have to listen to Cliff Richard.  Indeed, very few songs refer to the religious aspects of the Christmas season at all.  I find it fascinating, then, that, despite the normal pattern taken by writers to avoid religious motifs of any sort, one of the most popular Christmas songs actually treats us as if we believe in the tales of Greek mythology!

The song is “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” popularised by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM film, “Meet me in St Louis,” and subsequently recorded by notable others including Frank Sinatra and the Muppets (separately!).  Having spoken of “Faithful friends who are dear to us” who “gather near to us once more,” the song speaks of a hope that, “Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow.”

The Fates may sound like a slightly dubious 1960s pop-group, but they are in fact characters from the Greek pantheon: Clotho (the spinner) spins the thread of life for each human being; Lachesis (the measurer) chooses the lot in life each person will have and measures off how long that life is to be; and Atropos (she who cannot be turned) finally cuts the thread of life with her shears, so bringing each person to death.  In the world of Greek mythology, everything is subject to them – even the gods themselves.

Can there be anything more out of place in a Christmas song than a reference to three hag-like characters who wield such an impersonal and determinative power over the whole universe?  I’ll grant you that Rage Against The Machine’s Christmas number one of a few years ago was in pretty poor taste, but I reckon this line is probably more unhelpful still.  It taps into our society’s materialistic understanding of the world and encourages us to shrug our shoulders along with Doris Day and say, “Que sera, sera!” (or as today’s teenagers might put it, “Whatever!”) as if life doesn’t really matter.

This is complete madness, since the whole point about Christmas is that we matter immensely to God.  He doesn’t stand back, unable to overcome the power of the Fates (who don’t actually exist).  Rather, in His great love, He breaks into our world in the person of Jesus to rescue us and make us His children.  For those who feel helpless in the face of “fate” or other powers and authorities, He brings hope; the creator of the universe cares enough for us to search us out and bring us back to Himself so that through the years, we will be together.  And that’s a story that guarantees my celebrations each year can be described as “A merry little Christmas”.