The Dean of Ripon John Dobson’s Christmas reflection

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At last, we are nearly there; and the cathedral is all prepared for the joyful Christmas services, with carols and choirs. Even the Radio 4 morning service is coming from Ripon Cathedral on Christmas Day.

Like most churches, the cathedral has had more than a hint of Christmas about it throughout December.

The cathedral has hosted many events in December

The cathedral has hosted many events in December

This is actually the season of Advent, the period when we try to be a bit more reflective and prepare ourselves spiritually for both the celebration of Christmas and the coming of Christ into his world.

When asking the children in local schools if they know about Advent, there is a very positive response.

Advent means opening the doors in the Advent calendar and eating the chocolates.

Traditions can be learned early in life.

The truth is that the reflective preparations of Advent are mixed with the early celebrations of Christmas.

One could easily lose count of the Christmas carol services and concerts that the cathedral hosts in the first three weeks of December.

I was delighted when the wonderful Ripon Cathedral Development Campaign and our music department asked if they could hold their own Christmas concert.

Entitled “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, it was a veritable triumph, a tremendous evening of music, readings and carols.

But it had to happen at the beginning of December because the cathedral diary was crammed full for the rest of the month.

It would be very easy for people to be critical and say that Christmas shouldn’t start until Christmas Day, but I love the busy routine of December.

It’s heartening to see people coming together to reflect on the Christmas story. This can be a good way of preparing for December 25 and the 11 days that follow.

Also, these events give a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the life of some great institutions that make a positive difference to this region.

We have seen those involved in health and palliative care, including St Michael’s Hospice and Macmillan Cancer Support. Then there has been an amazing number of schools with wonderful choirs and orchestras; and we have enjoyed community groups, not least the Ripon Choral Society performing Handel’s Messiah and the Ripon Christmas Spectacular with the St Cecilia Orchestra.

The contribution of all of these organisations and groups is life enriching and deserves to be celebrated.

Where better to do that than in the cathedral or one of our many churches across the region?

Even so, it is still important to ask why Christmas is so worthwhile.

Some people may wonder about that in a world where people’s houses can be devastated by flooding just weeks before Christmas, and following a year in which the news has been dominated by the destructive chaos that is Syria, the terrorist atrocities of ISIS and the plight of refugees.

What difference does Christmas make to all of this?

A few weeks ago, I was near Skipton to visit Country Publications Ltd, the people who produce The Dalesman Magazine.

I was impressed by the delightful working environment provided at Broughton Hall, and by the positive attitude of those who work at this company: doing their best to celebrate what is good across this region.

This visit left me thinking about Old Amos; the character who appears in the Dalesman, famous for his gift for sharing deep wisdom in a few words.

It struck me that this is precisely what God is doing at Christmas.

Except that God manages to communicate all wisdom in just one word.

At Christmas we tell the story of the young family in Bethlehem, and the angels and shepherds, and the star and the wise men.

It’s familiar and we love to hear it. In his gospel, however, St John tells us none of this. Like Old Amos, he just gets to the point, “The Word became flesh”.

This comes from the very first chapter of St John, a passage that we always read on Christmas Day.

Without mentioning Bethlehem, St John manages to tell us that the child who was born there to be King of the Jews, is none less than that part of God which was present in the beginning of all things, the eternal wisdom of God that is at the heart of divine love, truth and justice.

This is the Word.

The difference that Christmas makes is that the Word becomes flesh; God becomes a man to convince us that he is with us in every circumstance of life, both good and bad.

The fact that the news is not always welcome, and that we ourselves can have some trying times in our personal lives, just makes the need for Christmas’s message even greater; and the celebrations more worthwhile.

The Word became flesh: now that’s good news.