A season for hope

By Jeremy Rensford, chair of the Shepparton Ministers’ Association

Thank God for Christmas! With the year we’ve all had, I say this figuratively AND literally. What a difficult year it’s been for all, and as I delve into the real Christmas story again this year, I see the main characters in the historical account of Jesus’s birth in the struggle. And the resounding prevailing message is the greatest victory of all comes, even in the struggle, and especially in the struggle.

I find Jesus’s birth, and the impact it not only had on those immediately involved, but also on billions since, so inspiring and life changing when it seems all hope is gone. I’d like to introduce to you some people involved in His birth that you or a friend may relate to:
· Mary – Jesus’s mum: pregnant unmarried teenager, vulnerable, poor, judged by society, fearful of losing her fiancé – where would her help come from?
· Shepherds – the working class of society, nobodies, just minding their own business out in the paddocks day and night. They were considered outcasts by the powers that be at the time.
· Anna – a senior citizen 84 years of age, her husband died after only seven years of marriage, and a widow ever since. A life of sad circumstances, a life alone, her life never got up and running like it was supposed to, and she looks back and suddenly she’s in here 80’s. It’s never easy being old, and not all the younger ones get this.

Each of these people needed a turnaround, they needed hope, they needed a saviour. And this saviour comes in the most unlikely form of the birth of a child named Jesus.
Jesus’s birth (the Christmas story) brought a reversal to each of these people, from the struggle and vulnerabilities, to prevailing life change and hope. Mary was an extraordinary woman that brought this Jesus up in a great family, and was cared for by her son.

When he was on the cross he insisted his friend John take over the duties of looking after his widowed mother. She was known to be “highly favoured” by God and “blessed by God above all other women” – a remarkable turnaround.
For the shepherds they had “VIP tickets” to the greatest show on earth – the birth of Jesus. They run, with God’s invitation to the place he was born (animals quarters) , they may have been nobodies, but to God, they were somebodies. And not only this, but Jesus eventually metaphorically joins them in their occupation too – He is famously known as “the Good Shepherd” but his flock are not sheep, they are people just like you and me.

And Anna, a very devout woman, is rewarded for hanging in there and having faith. She gets to meet the messiah Jesus only in his second week of life, in the temple where she had served faithfully for decades. She finishes well, being the early mouthpiece of the story of Jesus, she is one of the first two people that was able to tell about him, and that he was specially sent by God, to many, many people. A most unlikely news source! She died happy.

Brian Bell said “So we have Royalty (Jesus) clothed in rags; Majesty emerging in the midst of the mundane; Eternity stepping into time; And the most prominent event of all human history being noticed by no one but…a handful of outcasts.” If you are downtrodden, different, poor, marginalised, forgotten, judged and oppressed, these stories can become your story this Christmas.

The local churches of Greater Shepparton welcome our community to join us in celebrating Christmas and we’d love to see you at a Christmas service this year, please feel free to pay us a visit.

Jeremy Rensford.