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Rector's Letter

The distance to God

To some people, God can seem very distant. I’m writing this on a Sunday, and in church we’ve just been reflecting on reasons not to think of him that way!

As our calendar reminds us daily, it’s two thousand years since Jesus walked on the earth. So it’s easy to see how people can categorise him mentally (if somewhat vaguely) as ancient history – and hence of no immediate consequence. But in St Leonard’s church their sanctus bell can help us reassess that, because it’s one of the oldest in the country. Manufactured in the twelfth century, it has been ringing for eight hundred years! Now that’s more than a third of the interval between Jesus’ day and today. All of a sudden, perhaps Jesus doesn’t seem quite so distant historically!

But God can seem distant in other ways, too, to those who think of him as being to do only with spiritual people, people who fit in with him (or who fancy they do) in the religious life. Because that would make him not much to do with people like us who have a track record in life that doesn’t bear too much close scrutiny. But let’s check what we know about how God operates. At the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, we’re given Jesus’ line of descent all the way from Abraham. And it’s not what you’d expect. You’d expect a polished genealogy aimed at establishing Jesus’ ancestry in a way that demonstrates the finest pedigree. But that’s not what we’re given! In that first century Middle Eastern culture the people you’d mention in your genealogy would all be men, but Jesus has five women, three of whom are foreigners (another no-no for a good quality genealogy in that culture). Amongst the men, David, Jesus’ most famous ancestor, was an adulterer and a murderer. Jesus’ family tree is full of outsiders - gender, racial, and moral outsiders. What does this show us? It shows us that people who are excluded by culture, by respectable society, and even by God’s law can be brought in to Jesus’ family. God, we discover, moves in our circles after all!

Christmas shows us that God is no longer far away. In Jesus, he comes close, into our world. And it’s not merely to show us his love. He doesn’t come only to walk alongside us for our comfort. He comes with a great purpose – to transform us from inside out. As the angel says to Joseph about Jesus: “he will save his people from their sins.” May you know the nearness of the Saviour this Christmas and throughout the new year.

Rob Thomas

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