In many churches and cathedrals, people are invited to light candles and to write down their prayers. Often children do this, and often they are thoughtful and thought-provoking. Here is one I read some time ago. It simply said, “Dear God, everyone misses you”.
Now I don’t know what passed through that child’s mind as he or she wrote those words. Were they just the sort of words you write on a holiday postcard to a much-loved grandparent, or on a get-well card to a poorly aunt: an affectionate phrase that seemed the right sort of message to send to God? Or was there more to it than that? Whatever that child had in mind, I think those words bear thinking about. “Dear God, everyone misses you”.
The Christmas story is the story of the God who is missed. For centuries, the prophets had foretold the coming of the Saviour, but when he came how few noticed it! How many doors were closed against him? Our failure to recognise the Christ when he comes is a theme that runs through the gospels, in the stories of his infancy, his ministry, his suffering and death, and his resurrection. Everyone, or almost everyone, “misses God”.
But the words have another way of being read. “Everyone misses you”: that is, everyone would love you to be here, everyone longs for you; there is in every human heart a deep yearning for God, a desire for the meaning and purpose and peace of mind that God alone can give. “Everyone misses you”.
And the message of Christmas is that God acted decisively to meet this human need for him. God has drawn near, God has made his home with us: “the Word”, says St John, “was made flesh and dwelt among us”. The God whom all the ages have longed for has come to us at last. And the message of Christmas, and of Christianity, is not of the rumour of some far distant God, but of God who has made himself one with us: in the person of his blessed Son he has shared our birth, and our life, and our death; and in his resurrection he points us to the life which lies beyond this life and lifts us into the gracious presence of the Father. “Dear God, everyone misses you”. “Dear child”, says God, “but you have come home to me and I have come home to you”.
Yea, Lord, we greet thee
Born this happy morning,
Jesu, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
The Very Revd Peter Atkinson
The Dean of Worcester