Rejoice in the Lord alway! Again I say rejoice!
The words of the epistle rang out across the aisles today. No doubt the writers of the Prayer Book lived in a time when Christmas merriment took different forms from those enjoyed now or in my time. But their message was clear and distinct: this is a time when the greatest joy is to be found in the coming of Our Lord.
Why should there be such joy? People may say that the world lives in darkness, that slaughter and poverty are everywhere and that the coming of the Prince of Peace has made no difference to the misery of mankind. If that is what you believe, then the correct and proper response to the darkest season of the year is to blot it out with alcohol, to gorge yourself solid and avert your eyes from such sorrow.
Or you may argue that mankind has indeed made progress in the last two millennia but that the Christmas story bears no relevance to this progress, indeed that man is master of his own destiny. You may indeed celebrate this but I ask you, where is your joy?
For indeed there has been progress, if in stops and starts. Much of mankind has been freed from tyranny and poverty and even the extremes of fear and subservience.
Whence does this progress date? Surely it dates from that one event in a stable in a small middle-eastern town. Before that time just a few peoples, the Jews, the Greeks craved freedom and were most often denied it, while even fewer believed that peace was possible without tyranny. The Prince of Peace came not as an emperor to impose order and justice but as a tradesman and a vagrant. Consider those reflections of the virgin Mary: He hath exalted the humble and meek. Never again would the humble be destined for slavery; now they could aspire to exaltation.
The echoes of the trumpet call announcing the coming of the Prince can be heard through pre-history, at least as far as the poet Homer. In the same way those who listen can see the footprints of the Prince, marching through subsequent history. He may continue to be betrayed by His generals and ill-served by His lieutenants but His army advances regardless and it is the best of armies in which to serve. It marches with joyful songs, without fear or force of weapons of this world.
I would therefore wish all men and women the happiest of Christmases and urge you to spend time in reflection during this most special of days, in whichever way you may think best.