Church of England Diocese of Guildford Dunsfold


15 Dec 2020, 5:45 p.m.
christmas Church_news

Friends, as we approach a Christmas like no other, a line from a familiar Christmas carol has come to mind: not ‘In the bleak midwinter’, though it may have sometimes felt like that in our gloomier moments. Not ‘O tidings of comfort and joy’, though that’s been the inspired choice of the archbishops this year. But the phrase, ‘Brighter visions beam afar’.

From the beginning of the millennium, you see, this year - 2020 - has been associated with visions. Taking its cue from the world of the opticians, and deploying a rather obvious pun, every self-respecting business, school, hospital and church has had its 2020 Vision Statement, planning and preparing for this very moment, as 2020 draws to a close.

And such planning and preparations are important, of course, if our lives are to be fruitful and purposeful; and 2020 Vision Statements have their place. But what the <em>real</em> 2020 has reminded us is that even if our human vision might be proclaimed as faultless – 20/20 – when we next pay a visit to the opticians; there’s something we need that goes way beyond that: the ability, in the words of the apostle Paul, to walk by faith, not by sight:

<em>‘Sages, leave your contemplations,</em>
<em>‘Brighter visions beam afar’. </em>

The first Christmas, after all – like the first Good Friday – like the first Easter Day – was entirely unforeseen. No manmade vision statements could have come up with the idea that the world’s salvation would hang on the life of a tiny baby lying in a cattle shed, or an alleged blasphemer nailed to a cross, or an empty tomb and reports of a man risen from the dead. Only the divine vision of the prophets got anywhere near the true story, and they ended up being ridiculed or thrown down wells for put in the stocks or their pains. As the first Christians went around proclaiming this message, they too were seen as fools, ‘fools for Christ’, as Paul again put it. But then he added, ‘God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’.

And as I reflect back on this past year, and as I look forward to Christmas, my original 2020 vision statement – which, speaking personally, involved a sabbatical, and writing a book on Discipleship, and fostering the first tentative signs of church growth across the diocese in the 2019 statistics, may lie in tatters; but perhaps that’s a lesson in true discipleship itself. For following Jesus involves brighter visions than these, as together we choose to leave our human contemplations and ‘Come and worship Christ, the newborn king’.

May God bless you and yours this Christmastime!

<em>Bishop Andrew, December 2020</em>