Allow me to paint the picture of the world into which the Prince of Peace was born.

Bethlehem was a town in an occupied country. People had flooded into it because of a forced census imposed by the occupying emperor. The local warlord, fearful of being usurped by a rival power, had begun terrorising the people by ordering the wholesale slaughter of their children. There was nowhere decent to give birth to this threatened child; it had to take place in an animal shed. The family would then become displaced refugees, to escape the terror and violence of old hatreds playing out amid them.

Sound familiar? It should. The land that became Holy at the moment of that most remarkable of births, looks strikingly familiar to the place of terror and sorrow it is at this present moment, and in our time.

Yet, into the midst of this broken reality was born Immanuel, which means ‘God-with-us’. His birth occurred in the humblest of circumstances, bringing grace, joy and peace to a cruel, sad and broken reality. His was a birth to save, redeem, and transform; it was a moment of Good News, desperately needed. His birth, and it’s Good News, are still needed. God is with us, not against us. God has come close, not turned away. In the birth of Jesus, we are saved. For he was born amid great suffering to bring his peace into the world, that we might not be overwhelmed by the violent tendencies in which we are mired.

Do not our hearts ache for reconciliation of peoples; respect for our shared humanity; care for our crying planet? Our world and its people seem to be both groaning for and railing against pathways to a peace that is just and right. Into the midst of this we experience the hope of God through simple words of joy, mercy and peace. The shepherds experienced this. So did the Magi. Mary and Joseph knew it intimately. God knows we needed his Son to come amongst, to show us a way ahead.

As we come together this morning to celebrate in faith and hope the Nativity of the Lord, might we be attentive to the broken people across the world who are held captive by the tragedy of war and old hatreds. And might we also attend to those among us exiled in other ways: bereft of knowing God’s grace in their lives; lost and searching for identity and purpose; in need of love and friendship.

Our prayer this Christmas might appropriately be joined with that of the prayer of Zechariah, “[May] the dawn from on high break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk 1:78–79).

God has come among us, simply, humbly and hopefully in a little child, his Son, our Brother. May the peace that comes through this child, the Prince of Peace, be with you this Christmas. And with every footstep you take, may you carry His message, and His life, out into the world.

Happy Christmas to you!