by Donald A.G. Burling
I recently listened to a reading of Luke chapter 2, and it occurred to me that this must be the best known chapter in the Bible. Millions of people have heard, at church or at school, the story of the Roman census, the journey to Bethlehem, the lack of room in the inn, the new-born Baby laid in a manger, and the angelic revelation to shepherds.
Assuming there is no serious worsening of the Covid situation, in a few weeks’ time those with some religious sentiment will be heading for church, perhaps for the first time this year, while the rest will be heading for the pub for the annual customary celebrations. Yet most will have only the vaguest idea why the birth of the Saviour should be called tidings of great joy to all people.
Apart from attending church, is there anything we could usefully be doing at this time? In many areas there is a tradition of singing carols in the open air. Here in Kingsthorpe we used to sing outside Waitrose, though it has lapsed over the last two years; while in Isleworth I can remember playing in a Salvation Army band. But carols in themselves have a limited evangelistic value, while if they are accompanied by a collection they can give some people the impression that the churches are only interested in money.
Might some of us attempt something more daring, such as following our neighbours into the pubs? In my experience some pub managers will welcome carol singers, if we ask them first, and would not object to our handing out leaflets to customers. I have a couple of leaflets that could be recycled.
There is no doubt that the Gospel of salvation is as much needed today as in the time of John Wesley and William Booth. Those who preach in carol services need to be concerned to give a word that will touch people’s consciences. For the rest of us, perhaps the best we can do is pray. But remember – God sometimes expects us to be the answer to our own prayers.