The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow (Picture: Keith Blundy)
 Bishop Mark Bryant

Bishop Mark Bryant

“Good tidings we bring to you and your kin. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Just about everyone knows that one. Though a priest I was talking to last week said that she was sure that the school children who had been in for their Carol service had all sung “Good Tidings we bring to you and your KinG!

And of course it is “Kin” – old English for family.

And Christmas is all about families – so people say. People ask if the family are coming. People go away to be with family. A colleague is driving down south as soon as Christmas services are over to be with her family. And the other side of the coin is that at Christmas time we are more aware than ever of family we are not with; because they live overseas or they are with other relatives or because they have died.

Christmas seems to be all about family. It is about those we call “our nearest and dearest”

But the Christmas story; Jesus’ coming into the world is in danger of turning everything about our nearest and dearest on its head.

Look at the first people who get to hear about God’s son coming into the world. The shepherds. We don’t know a lot about the shepherds, but they are probably rough, they live on the edge of the village, keep themselves to themselves, do not get to church/synagogue because they are too busy looking after their sheep. They don’t really fit in.

And then later – the story goes – foreigners come. They have strange ways, they speak another strange language. They definitely do not fit in with their strange clothes and customs and we simply do not know what to make of them

So the little group of Mary and Joseph and Jesus gets bigger because Jesus wants his nearest and dearest closest to him on Christmas day and the shepherds who do not go to church and strange foreigners who people cannot begin to understand are his nearest and dearest.

Jesus begins the way he means to go on.

Fast forward thirty or so years and the story tells us that when he is dying on the cross it is not just Mary his mother and John he wants with him but a penitent thief as well. Today you will be with me in Paradise he says to him. The thief who everybody else thinks should be executed is one of Jesus’’ nearest and dearest

And in-between, there is the tax man, the widow whose son has died, a few lepers who everybody steers well clear of and a whole raft of other people who everybody crosses the street to avoid and who are pilloried and criticised on the front page of the Nazareth Times most weeks

And Jesus says that these are his nearest and dearest and his Christmas Card list grows bigger and bigger by the day and to be honest we are probably a bit surprised y who is on it.

Jesus coming into the world turns the idea of our nearest and dearest on its head.

Jesus comes into the world, and his family, his nearest and dearest, his kin keeps growing and growing and growing.

Jesus’ understanding of family is that nobody is left out and nobody – but nobody – matters less than anyone else.

And that is why – from Jesus’ point of view – nobody is of less value than anyone else.

And in a world where tomorrow morning 90,000 children will wake up homeless – and that is in this country  

The idea that nobody is of less value than anyone else is simply revolutionary

Jesus’ list of his nearest and dearest grow and grows and grows and is full of surprises. And Jesus’ nearest and dearest need to be our nearest and dearest too.

I have been telling everybody that I think my most memorable quote for 2014 is “If there is a fundamental challenge …. it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.”

There is a Carol which people do not seem to do much nowadays. It is called the Cowboy Carol and was made popular – for those who can remember that far back – by Sir Malcolm Sargent. It had in it the words “There’s a new world beginning from tonight”

How true that is. There is a new world beginning tonight; a world where nobody matters less than anyone else where Jesus’ nearest and dearest become our nearest and dearest. It is quite simply a revolution and the Christ Child asks us if we want to join in – and to join in whatever the cost


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