It was the first of December and, as you might expect, everywhere was already festooned with decorations for Christmas. Of course these days political correctness dictates that we don’t call it that. Businesses wish their customers ‘Season’s Greetings’, we ‘deck the halls’ and all get jolly without defining why! It’s a bit vague.
Mind you, let me say something I’ve said before – for those of us who remember my home town in the Seventies during the Troubles, it is most certainly a real joy to see Belfast lit up and buzzing, vibrant and prosperous. After dark and anxious times it’s always good to see something thrive again.
The concert was by the New Irish Orchestra and Choir and it was brilliant! World class music in a world class venue!
Highlights abounded, a few personal favourites being the ‘Glory of the Lord’ chorus from Handel’s ‘Messiah’, a beautiful, plaintive rendition of ‘In the bleak mid-winter’ by guest Cathy Burton, and the ever-powerful ‘God help the Outcast’ from Disney’s animated ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ sung by guest Sylvia Burnside.
A retiring offering was taken up for the work of Mission Aviation Fellowship, a charity which flies help, both medical and spiritual into some of the world’s most remote areas.
A fair reminder perhaps that not everyone is enjoying a safe and prosperous season.
‘Uncertainty’ is the word oft-repeated in the news media again this year after surprises in the UK and USA. Meanwhile the bombs keep falling on homes and hospitals and children flee, orphaned and without refuge.
We pray and support all agencies seeking justice, bringing charity and hope to victims this Christmas, and for some of us there’s nothing vague about it. We do so in the name of someone who was himself outcast by a condemning religion, who chose to be born rejected in a stable yard. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than that!
And that was the theme of the concert, ‘God is with us’. Our Maker has come to help us. ‘Emmanuel’ has opted to address the world’s suffering by sharing it, his sacrificial self-offering providing a basis for love and hope to be reborn in our darkest days. This child, once laid in a manger, became a man who showed an exquisite blend of courage, gentleness and joy in serving the poor and needy with real love and a strong message of redemption.
A traditional carol we may sing again this year begins, ‘Love came down at Christmas’.
But for Christians, love has a name.
His name is Jesus.