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Beginnings and Endings are important – They Go Together.

A powerful and thought provoking reflection from Rev Julian Hamilton offered at REWIND 2020

14 December 2020

The beginnings of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament are all different. The

beautiful stable scene which we have here at the front of the mansion house remains an

invention of the Christmas card … it is not depicted as a snow topped stable full of family

with a newborn, shepherds and wise men gazing up with a star hanging above the stable –

never mind the smiling very clean animals in ‘any’ of the four gospels.

My favourite addition BTW, the snow. In the Middle East. For years I have quietly either sniggered or been exasperated by Christmas depictions of snow in Bethlehem - but then I began to run human engagement programs between Palestinians, Israeli’s, British and Irish young people, and in conjunction with such was on a skype call (remember when Skype was a thing?) to a friend in Bethlehem to talk arrangements and he told me it’s very cold here, it's snowing. I told him, it’s Bethlehem, it doesn’t snow there! He said, let me move my computer to the window so you can see – Oh my – it was beautiful … and snowing!!! So, OK, I might give the snow on the Christmas card a gentle pass!

But the Gospels are all wonderfully different in how their beginnings …

John – the philosopher and only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament … he has no cradle scene … he has lofty grandeur of the WORD (the Christ) being present to the world from the very beginning. His is a flowing chronicle of a divine presence which has always been nearby but now through proclamation and deliberate descent has come to dwell amongst his people. John is writing for a new audience - a Greek thinking and speaking audience, and so he writes accordingly with poetry and prose to begin his account.

Mark also has no stable scene. His opening, his beginning, is straight-in there with an almost

political declaration of here is the ‘Good News’ – deliberately using language familiar with

the government of the day to make his point. Good news, ‘Euangelion’ would have been a

familiar phrase as a proclamation from the Empire that the emperor is returning to Rome

with victory under his belt – another tribe / country has been defeated and Rome is

supreme. Here the Good News, the PR machine proclaimed, your Emperor has brought us

victory again.

Mark seems to be straight to the point – that’s not Good news … you want Good news, well

here it is … that emperor you think is King … he’s not it at all …

Matthew – another varied beginning to the story of Jesus. Matthew writing as a Jew for a

primarily Jewish audience firmly places the narrative his writing will go on to outline in a

Jewish setting, beginning with a long chronology of the birth of Christ – placing Christ firmly

in his Jewish ancestry. Here a chapter later we at least do have a stable scene with wise men… alas there are no shepherds, and it’s not a stable, but there is a baby Jesus! Matthew has wise men bring gifts fit for a king – yes, the Kings come to visit a new king.

And Luke – the fourth of four different beginnings to the story of Jesus. After a lengthy

prologue setting Jesus firmly into his Jewish narrative, this time with a story of an old man in

the Temple having a vision rather than a lengthy family tree, Luke has Jesus born and laid in

a manger for there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn. Yes, not so much a stable,

more a cave, the Christmas card writers take those words that Jesus was laid in a manger

and go all out with it! But here, we do have shepherds! Disturbed from their manual

nightshift work on the local hillsides by angels declaring Good News, and traveling to find

the holy child.

I love the variation of the Gospels – I love the contrasting hopes and dreams contained in

their beginnings. The lofty all-embracing philosophy of John, the political edge, almost

dangerous subversion of Mark, the deliberate placing into context of Matthew … and

especially I love Luke.

I love Luke because his beginning has this history defining narrative first proclaimed, to the

manual night shift workers. The shepherds.

The shepherds – the often mistrusted and set-aside shepherds who did the jobs that no-one

else wanted. The ones who worked nightshift so that the economy and the religious social

practices could continue. If they did not look after the sheep, how would the people eat,

how would they sacrifice at the Temple or in their homes? They were the often ignored

even maligned lower working classes of their day, and they are the first to hear of the

message Luke is bringing through his writing of the story of Jesus.

Luke wants us to know, this beginning is for everyone. And to prove it, he writes that the

first receivers of the joy are the ones some folks would treat as no-one.

With every beginning is an ending. In all four Gospels, the old order is ending. The beginning

of the story of Jesus, ends a story where God is somehow absent and above. For here is

God, present in flesh.

It ends a story where God is victorious through violence and victory, for here is God, in an

animal feeding trough.

It ends a story that God is distant and to be feared – for here is God, wrapped up in human

skin held in human arms.

It ends a story where God wields mighty power over – because here is God vulnerable,

gurgling, cooing, struggling for breath and sight and touch.

This is love come down. Emmanuel, God with us.

The world as we knew it in 2019, has ended. It’s gone, and it will not come back. Old

certainties, habits, practices and ways of functioning – you know – ‘how the world works’ –

that world has ended. And we are in a new place.

The certainties of the world we knew a year ago will not return, we have new pratices and

habits to acquire. Some of us have experienced deep deep loss this year in tragic ways.

Some of us have been denied the connections which keep us human. So so many have

sacrificed, and so so many have gone beyond their duty just to keep us afloat. And it hasn’t

just been ‘us’ – it’s been ‘them’ – a truly global narrative, that has stretched to encompass

princes, presidents and prime ministers, as it has encompassed the destitute, diminished

and downtrodden.

And now, fittingly through the lights of Hanukkah as we gaze at the coming light of

Christmas, we see light at the end of the tunnel brought to us by science and innovation and

massive endeavor … but we know, when we leave the tunnel, everything will be different

because of what we have traveled through. The world as known has ended – but – endings

and beginnings go together … where something ends, something new begins, emerges,

forms, grows.

Maybe, just maybe, this year, the new beginning seen in the Christ-child of Bethlehem can

inspire us toward new beginnings of all kinds. We have a new world emerging … how do we

want it to be? In the Christian tradition, we are invited to witness the light and life of

newness in the Christ-child, and carry that life and light into the world – bringing joy, peace,

patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control … bringing love.

Let love be our new beginning. For God Is With Us.

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