It seems we are living in dark times.
After years of widening political and cultural divisions, and then a pandemic, we were maybe hoping for some respite. A time of peace, time to breathe.
But in 2022 we have seen war in Europe, chaos in government, spiralling poverty, collapsing public services ... and seemingly no end in sight.
This year many people will not be focused on the glitter and magic of the Christmas season, instead they will be worrying about how they are going to buy presents for their children, how they will be able to afford to cook Christmas dinner, and how they will heat their homes.
Isaiah 9 was written centuries before the birth of Christ, and these words will be read at carol services across the nation in the coming weeks:
"The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned."
This prophecy is not vague spirituality, it is a tangible hope for those who are trudging through deep darkness. But can we convince one another that this is truly relevant to the here and now?
That first Christmas was full of wonder and mystery. The One who flung stars into space entered humanity as a tiny helpless baby. But the nativity story is also full of angels telling people not to be afraid, not to panic at the strange things that were happening.
As I always try to emphasise on my podcast, God wants us to care deeply about our world, because he does. Jesus did not float around Judea, untroubled and undisturbed. No, he got his hands dirty and his heart broken on our behalf.
At the same time, in the face of today's darkness, we are reminded not to panic. Jesus tells his disciples in John 16 that: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." These words point back to that famous passage in Isaiah, which goes on to say:
"to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders."
"Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end."
Our earthly governments are full of flawed human beings who make mistakes. But Psalm 103 tells us: "The Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all." Even if it doesn't look like it.
Whatever challenges we are facing personally and as a nation today, let's be greatly reassured by God's promises which he always keeps. Let's fix our eyes on Him, and encourage one another to stand firm.
And if we are confident in our faith, we will find it easier to hold out his light to others. We may find this easier at Christmas, when it's more acceptable to talk about the hope that we have, and to invite friends to carol services. Even the mainstream airwaves are proclaiming the true meaning of the baby's birth this year, in the catchy chorus of Sir Cliff Richard's new single: "Christ has come to save the world: Jesus, the heart of Christmas."
What hope does this truth offer to our neighbours who are struggling? In the wood of the manger and the wise men's gift of myrrh, we see the shadow of the Cross.
It's hard to lift our eyes to eternity when we are bogged down in our present troubles. Faith in Christ does not pay the bills. But His purpose in coming tells us that we are each enormously significant to God. And his love for us was shown in action, both as the baby in Bethlehem and as the man at Golgotha.
We are therefore called to be his hands and feet in serving our neighbours in their needs. The proclamation of the gospel and our treatment of those around us are intrinisically linked. And because we know that we are loved and secured for eternity, we can afford to care generously for those around us.
So let's point to Jesus in our communities this Christmas. Let's help out in practical ways, providing the food banks, the warm spaces, the listening ears. And let's offer this hope to our neighbours: if you get a shiver down your spine at the sparkle and magic of Christmas – at the candlelight and carols in your local church – how much more will you thrill when you realise his hand is on the whole of history, and that at Christmas, and Easter, he acted for you.
Tim Farron has been the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005, and served as the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party from 2015 to 2017.Tim is also the host of Premier's 'A Mucky Business' podcast. His new book A Mucky Business: Why Christians should get involved in politics is published in November.