The BBC news headlines the other morning felt rather familiar. After months of Covid-dominated news, we are once again in Brexit territory, as the big story was ‘Strong possibility of no trade deal with EU’. We can be forgiven for thinking that we have been here before, and that nothing much seems to have changed. But in reality, the situation is different, as the end of the Brexit transition period draws ever closer, and all the years of debate and politicking, as careers have waxed and waned and the majority of us felt ever more bewildered, are coming to an end. The time of fulfilment is near – and we have yet to see the consequences of what has gone before. It’s the end of an old story – but it’s also the beginning of a new one.
It might seem unlikely, but this has some resonance with the early chapters of the Gospels written by Matthew and Luke, where the birth of the Messiah is announced and then takes place, and a new story breaks into the old. Matthew is keen to tell us that Jesus’ birth is the fulfilment of prophecy: speaking of the circumstances of Jesus’ conception, he writes, ‘…all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)’ (Matthew 1:22-23). Later, King Herod’s advisers tell him that Bethlehem was foretold as the place where the Messiah would be born, because ‘…this is what the prophet has written.’ (Matthew 2:5). But Luke is more subtle. Instead, he focuses on people whose stories already have resonance for his audience, so the birth of John the Baptist to old parents reminds them of the birth of Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah; and God uses Mary, Jesus’ mother, to sing out the truth that God is still in the business of bringing justice to the poor and hungry, through the gift of a Saviour from the house of King David himself (Luke 1:5-56).
One commentator writes this: ‘The new is at the door, to be sure, as new as the young Mary who visits the old Elizabeth. But for now, it is enough to be assured that the new continues and fulfils the old, with the same God remembering covenants kept and making good on promises made.’ It seems to us that we need to remember and hold on to this, most particularly at this time. The past year has forced us to face new uncertainties, and in spite of the good news that vaccines against Covid are already being administered, we cannot expect a return to ‘normal’ life any time soon. The Brexit situation might also feel like an unwelcome visitor whom we thought we could ignore for a while, but who has turned up anyway without an invitation. We might all be wondering if God has forgotten that it’s Christmas and that we have a right to do what we have always done – but He hasn’t, and anyway, it’s up to Him how we celebrate, if at all. Instead, if this eternal Christmas story is to remain relevant and true, safe from the temptation to turn it into a fairy story, we have to focus on the promises that it contains. It is still a new story, which breaks into the old, bringing with it not uncertainty and the threat of unlooked for change, but rather showering us with abundant hope in a Saviour who loves us.
The angel Gabriel told Mary that ‘…no word from God will ever fail’, so we can be reassured that whatever new story God has planned for us will always be part of His old story – the one He has purposed from the beginning, and He will bring it to fulfilment when the time is right.
With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline