A Journey of Hope at Christmas

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” –the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9:6
Yesterday I published a blog post on my blog, Sara’s Musings,” on Advent–which started this week and ends on Christmas Day–titled, The Best News Ever.”  And, “the best news ever” is found in a succinctly written six-word sentence in the second article in that blog post that states, “Jesus in on a rescue mission.” And indeed, He is.

This morning I ran across a sermon that was published back in 1993 in an article titled, Meanings of Christmas: A Journey of the Heart to Hope, by Dr. John Habgood, a retired British Anglican bishop and academic who was Bishop of Durham from 1973 to 1983, and Archbishop of York from November 1983 to 1995. Here is the text from that sermon:

Have you noticed how the Christmas stories are centered on four journeys? There is the journey to Bethlehem, back to the place of family origins, back to Royal David’s City, the place of promise, back to the past. One might almost say, back to basics.

Then there is the journey of the shepherds to see this great thing which had came to pass, a journey made in hope and surprise and wonderment.

The journey of the Magi is a powerful symbol of the world’s search for an answer to its problems. The fact that the tradition alternates between wise men and kings somehow pinpoints the world’s dilemma about whether the answers lie in knowledge or in power. Finally, there is the journey into Egypt, the flight from Herod, but a flight which leaves a terrible trail of slaughtered innocents.

For many people today, I suspect, Christmas has this same character of a journey, a journey of the heart; a quest for some echo from the past, something remembered and partially lost; some hope and wonderment glimpsed, but only partially grasped; a search for meaning, with a star to guide us; or is it a flight from too much reality?

The journey of the heart may take us back to childhood, to Christmases as they used to be with their magic still untarnished. Or the journey of the heart may take us forward, beyond the tragedies and sufferings of today’s world to a scarcely expressible hope; a world in which neighbors no longer bomb and shoot each other; a world in which people no longer starve or die of neglect; a world in which people no longer hate each other.

Both journeys have their attractions at Christmas time. But whether we look backwards or forwards, there are dangers. Cynics might be right to dismiss the backward look as mere nostalgia. They might be equally quick to label the forward look as mere Utopianism. Despite the cynics, though, the search and the hope and the journey are not to be dismissed so easily. They represent a feeling out for something real, however elusive, which must not be abandoned, whatever the sneers, and whatever the disappointments.

I think particularly this Christmas of the search for lost innocence. With our consciousness of a society in deep moral trouble, it is the innocence of Christmas Day which grips the heart; the innocence of Virgin and Child; the innocence of murdered babies, which gives their feast day its name —Holy Innocents. And it is the shining innocence of Christ himself in the Gospel story, which both convicts us and uplifts us.

Yet innocence is not a quality by which today’s world sets much store. It tends to be equated with ignorance and gullibility. The innocent are pitied and ridiculed for not being streetwise, for what are presumed to be their sheltered lives.

Nineteen ninety three has faced us with gnawing doubts about the innocence of children. We are increasingly conscious of how disastrously young minds can be polluted with images of horror, and become well-educated in what the poet Traherne called “the dirty devices of the world.” And even where innocence exists, what can it do in face of the murderous struggles around it? What can the children of Bosnia or countless other troubled areas of the world hope for, except to grow up quickly, or escape?

The search for lost innocence can easily begin to seem like a vain and misguided dream. But if innocence entails the clarity of childlike vision, isn’t this what our world needs? ‘Back to basics’, if it means anything, must surely mean seeing our way through the murk and muddle of today’s confused values to a few simple truths about human life – that we are made for God, and made for goodness.

If innocence is about the purity of heart which sees God in everything, then surely this is the vital counterpoise to a world of self-interested calculation. If it is about seeing the best in people, rather than the worst in them, then surely we need a few innocents among the carping destructiveness of so much of what passes for public life.

Innocence is not about ignorance, though some forms of ignorance may be worth cherishing in a society avid to fill minds with the products of other people’s diseased imaginations. If we have that kind of ignorance, we can count ourselves lucky. But true innocence goes beyond this. It is all there in St Paul’s classic description of the love which thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears ill things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’.

And today’s message is that such shining innocence is not a delusion. It has been made actual for us in the life of Jesus. And if we set out on a journey of the heart to Bethlehem, whether in wonderment like the shepherds or in puzzlement like the magi, we, too, may find its source. And in worship we shall taste its reality. (Quote source here.)

What Dr. Habgood stated in 1993 is every bit as relevant at the end of 2018 as it was back then. Innocence is about purity of heart, but it is not ignorant of what goes on in the world, though, as he stated, “some forms of ignorance may be worth cherishing in a society avid to fill minds with the products of other people’s diseased imaginations.” And given today’s technological wonders that were not available back in 1993, much of what he refers to as “other people’s diseased imaginations” have come front and center stage with a click on a laptop, smartphone, iPad, Chromebook, and other technology; and it is present in many of today’s movies and, of course, social media in it’s various forms.

However, true innocence, as Dr. Habgood also stated, goes beyond this to the Apostle Paul’s “classic description of the love which thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears ill things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” as found in I Corinthians 13.

As we make yet another journey to Christmas this year, let us reflect on what Dr. Habgood stated back in 1993: That such shining innocence is not a delusion. It has been made actual for us in the life of Jesus. And if we set out on a journey of the heart to Bethlehem, whether in wonderment like the shepherds or in puzzlement like the magi, we, too, may find its source. . .

And in worship . . .

We shall taste . . .

Its reality . . . .

YouTube Video: “Best News Ever” by MercyMe:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here