Walking down Regent Street in London last weekend, I was struck by the beautiful angels glowing in the sky as part of their Christmas decorations and the scale of the crowds making it difficult to pause and look up at those angels.
Christmas is a season of hope that has been overtaken by consumerism. I love the notion that we can subvert this consumerism by being merchants of holy hope. Mary was a literal merchant of holy hope. The angel told her not be afraid and explained that the Holy Spirit would come on her and she would give birth to God in human flesh.
There is a real risk that we make too big a deal about this event that happened 2000 years ago - as if it was one off event. The real miracle is that it is supposed happen again and again every single day. We celebrate Christmas, not simply because God came down and indwelt Mary, but because the gift of being filled with God is available to everyone, everyday, everywhere.
Our job is to be merchants of holy hope - in our marriages and families; in our schools and hospitals; in workshops and offices; in buses and trains; in restaurants and takeaways; in houses and homes.
We are to re-direct the fear and insecurity in the world around us into the hope of Jesus. Christmas reminds us that we are sent out into the world to get our hands dirty. We must also challenge, encourage and pray for our politicians.
And so in this Christmas season, we remember the least and the lost. We call on our politicians to do all they can to ensure Universal Credit is paid on time and in a fair way - the five week delay is unacceptable. Churches and charities will continue to serve in the gap facilitating services such as Foodbanks and debt counselling.
We recognise that the Brexit vote has caused a deep divide and yet we have an opportunity to be a gateway nation - to strengthen our unique relationship with Ireland and the rest of the UK. We are culturally distinct from other parts of Britain and Ireland, we have different laws and customs but also enjoy great relationships with both. We will champion creative solutions which allow both peace and prosperity to thrive.
Fifty years on from the 1967 Abortion Act and with vested interests pushing for law change here and the repeal of the 8th amendment in the Republic, we champion rights and equality for both the mother and the unborn child. Northern Ireland’s unique laws have saved over 100,000 lives and we celebrate that fact.
The deceiver’s greatest lie is that ‘things will always be this way’; the hope of Christmas shatters this illusion. God took on flesh - the divine in a skin. “The mere sound of his name will signal hope, envy among far-off unbeliever.” Matt 12:21 MSG
We want this land to be a place of safety for young and old alike, a place of laughing and fun and flourishing. Like Jeremiah, we seek both the peace and prosperity of this land. We pray that it will be a place of storytellers and risk-takers. We pray that we will continue to be known the world over for our hospitality - welcoming the stranger in. Finally, we pray that we will be known as a place of incredible generosity - giving out of our abundance.
This will require tough decisions and so we must be realistic what we expect from our politicians. We do need an Executive, but it is time to review the structures which were designed for transition rather than a lasting peace. We also need to enhance the role of civic society and we must all play our part. If we are serious about change, it begins with us.
This Christmas the angel says to each of us - fear not - and invites us into the journey of becoming merchants of holy hope.