As we look forward to Christmas Day this coming Monday, in his Christmas Message 2023, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, encourages us to step back and take sometime out from the busy and chaotic world around us, to ‘ponder the wonder of Christmas.’
In the face of the times that we live in, the minister of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church in Dublin, suggests that “Like us all, I need to ponder the wonder of Christmas.” He encourages us to read afresh the story of Jesus’ birth in the early chapters of the gospels, or attend a Carol Service, thinking about the words we sing “…that capture the vulnerable, shocking, amazing wonder of the birth of Jesus the Son of God.”
Full text of the Moderator’s Christmas Message 2023 :
Ponder the Wonder of Christmas
At the start of this month, I returned from a two-week visit to Kenya in east Africa, where as Moderator, I had the privilege of visiting our Global Mission Workers and speaking in many Presbyterian Church of East Africa congregations. Kenya is a beautiful place, and is green because of the El Nino enhanced rainy season, but I must confess, even in November it was a pleasant 20-25 centigrade, and there was little thought of Christmas.
Arriving back home, Christmas is on everyone’s mind. It’s cold, the Christmas markets are buzzing, preparations and presents are to be bought, our family Christmas letter must be written, and many cards are to be posted.
In Ireland the news is not all good and for many nothing has changed: Stormont is still not functioning, the recent racial violence in Dublin has frightened and shocked everyone, the Israel/Palestine war continues with savage brutality, as does the war in Ukraine, with the Covid inquiry in London exposing disfunction at the heart of government. My thoughts are swirling with the reality of a world in chaos and the busyness of the season making it hard to focus on the reality of what Christmas is all about. Like us all, I need to ponder the wonder of Christmas itself.
I need to ponder the wonder of the story. Let me encourage you to read afresh the story of Jesus’ birth in the early chapters of the gospels, asking God to reveal to you the wonder of the incarnation, ponder the accuracy of Isaiah’s prophesy, 700 years before the first Christmas, when he wrote, “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14.)
We should ponder the words of the Christmas Carols we sing. Hymn writers, both old and modern, are great wordsmiths who paint memorable pictures of the amazing reality of God with us. For example, in Charles Wesley’s second verse of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, it says, “Christ by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord; late in time behold him come; offspring off a virgin’s womb: veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with us to dwell. Jesus our Emmanuel.”
Graham Kendrick in Reckless Love writes, “from bliss to pain in blink of time, So our God arrives in Palestine, That’s how the story goes, A peasant girl, the scandal fresh, Our God conceived in frail bone and flesh, Strange way to save the world, The streets are dangerous, For a child as thousand ways to die, how can he survive.” These words capture the vulnerable, shocking, amazing wonder of the birth of Jesus the Son of God.
As we look forward to what is to come, consider taking the time to attend a Christmas Service. In a children’s nativity, or carol service, ponder with others the wonder of the birth of Jesus, taking time away from this busy and chaotic world to remember that God is with us, and that He is Jesus, our Saviour from sin.
May God bless you richly as you take time to ponder the wonder of Immanuel, God with us, Jesus our Saviour.
Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney – Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland