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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; for to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9: 2, 6)

What understanding do you have of God? Is it a kind of spiritual version of Father Christmas? Of course, the symbolism of Father Christmas is not a negative thing – quite the opposite, in fact, when you consider the generations of loving parents and friends who have gone out of their way to be generous to their loved ones. However, in its simplest form the image of Father Christmas is not an appropriate image for God, because it implies that God simply hears our requests for presents and delivers them! Used in this way, the image turns God into a magical being who simply accedes to our every want. Of course, God doesn’t actually work like that at all, but the problem is that if we believe in that kind of present-giving God, then when he doesn’t deliver exactly what we want, right on time, our world is turned up-side down.

That kind of image of God is not dissimilar to the food machines you find at airports and in other places. You make sure you have the correct change, feed your $5.20 into the machine, press the correct buttons, and hey presto! your packet of crisps drops down to the bottom. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but again, the problem with this kind of image of God, is that when it all goes wrong, when the crisps you get are all broken and crushed, or worse, when your crisps get stuck in the machine, are hanging by the thinnest corner of the plastic packaging, refusing to budge, despite your desperate thumping on the glass front, then you get angry and blame God.

The God I believe in is not like that. This is why I would love to have a conversation with the famous atheist Richard Dawkins, because I suspect that the particular God he doesn’t believe in is quite possibly one I don’t believe in either! So let me suggest an alternative idea to you. What if God is actually a force of love, who constantly breaks into our world, working for good? This force of love breaks into our lives and we in turn respond. This loving energy is then a powerful source of goodness for human beings. Rather than being a Father Christmas type character who just gives us what we want, God is an all-encompassing life force, who guides us to that which we and others truly need.

We get to know this force of loving energy through the person of Jesus, because in Jesus we see what God is like. The season of Christmas is a reminder that God is to be viewed as pure love. In the fragile and vulnerable baby Jesus we see the Incarnation of God. The image of God which Jesus gives us is that of vulnerable love, given both in his coming to us as a little baby and ultimately in his death on the cross. There is a lovely sentence from the letter to the Hebrews, talking about Jesus, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1: 3). In Jesus we see what God is truly like: compassionate, loving, and a friend, with a strong sense of justice. When we experience these qualities in other people, and when we foster them in ourselves, then we know we are close to God, close to this extraordinary source of love.

This God, found in the vulnerable, almost fragile baby Jesus, appears to ordinary human beings, as we are reminded in Luke’s Gospel, in which he appears not to the high and mighty, but to the simple shepherds keeping watch over their sheep. God’s presence is most often found in the lowliest of places: in the tiny Jesus, who is seen by the shepherds, the ordinary folk.

So, this powerful energy we know as the God of love, made manifest in the person of Jesus, does not simply grant our every wish, whether that wish is prudent or not. No – God responds to our every need. God is wise enough, thank goodness, to know when our particular desire would be destructive. There is a saying, Be careful what you wish for! But the Christian can be slightly more confident that God will not simply grant us our every desire, because he knows that would be disastrous!

Our prayer life is much more like a conversation. As we quieten ourselves and tap into the divine energy, so begins a dialogue. Hence the saying, If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans for the future!! But that’s okay, because that too is part of the conversation.

The season of Christmas gives rise to some of the best symbolism of the year, and one of my favourite symbols is that of the light shining in the darkness, guiding those who live in a land of deep darkness. There are parts of our world, even parts of our own society, which are indeed full of darkness. We are called, as Christians, to take a stand against the darkness, confident that the light of Christ will be our guide, confident that the God of love, this divine life force, will guide us.

The light of Christ does make a difference in a dark world. Even in the midst of suffering, in fact especially in the midst of suffering, the Christian is aware of a greater power at work, the divine power, giving us strength and courage: courage even to resist the darkness, to speak out against it where necessary.

There is a great power at work in the world, a force for good, living inside each one of us, and when we harness that power, when we tap into that power, the darkness can be resisted. This force for good is the light of Christ, the presence of God inside us: a light to shine in the darkness, when all other lights have failed.

The Rev’d Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain