This is the text of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
Later this morning I shall make my way over to Bradford for a carol concert at the Cathedral. Every year the cathedral is packed, but not just with the usual suspects. As every cathedral experiences, the place will bring together people of all ages, a variety of backgrounds, and a range of faiths and cultures. And at the heart of the event will be a common cause: the reality of reconciliation between people of difference in a place of worship of a God who takes us seriously.
This carol concert is just one of those events that forge strong relationships during the good times in order to hold the weight and pressure of the testing times. Here we see a variety of people in an exciting and hopeful city coming together for a short time, but in mutual respect, friendship and – even – love.
I guess this is what is now happening in Glasgow following the tragedy in the centre of the city on Monday. The shock is now giving way to the grief that weeps its way out of the wounds that can’t be avoided. People have died, others are seriously injured, many are suddenly bereaved … and the numbness can no longer protect from a necessary mourning. As it has in the not-so-distant past, Glasgow will no doubt see a coming together of very diverse people, united in pain and loss.
But, as in all such tragedies, some people will look for some order from the chaos – or some sense that defies the apparent meaninglessness of death. But, what is there to say when words seem inadequate?
Christmas provides a unique context in which to bring people together in this way. The carols and readings tell the story of how God comes among us as one of us – not waiting for us to sort it all out. Strip away all the tinsel and shopping and we are left with raw humanity and a Christmas story that is neither romantic nor pain-free. The baby of Bethlehem is born into a land under brutal military occupation in which life is cheap. His birth brings together an unlikely group of people to share the experience and see in this baby the hope they have been longing for. Yet, even the rumour of this birth results in infanticide unleashed by a paranoid King. The family quickly become refugees in a strange land. The baby grows into the man who ends up dead, arms open in embrace for a world that can throw at him what it will, and he won’t throw it back.
Christmas, then, is about God opting right into the mess and injustices of the world as we know it. No exemptions for God – or us. There are no equitable scales of loss: the loss of a loved one changes the world for ever and each loss is unique.
But, our mortality does not have the final word. Even here, we can find ourselves drawn by hope, and not driven by fear.