If you read the Bible for the first time, your first impression might well be that it is full of people with unusual names: Happuch, Makbannai, Ozem, Shabbethai and Tryphosa! Of course, the exotic names are just a fact of history: most of the events of the Bible happened a long time ago in what we now call the Middle East.
The Bible is a story involving people. We live in a world where people are becoming less important. We are no longer Mr and Mrs X but ‘consumers’, ‘subscribers’, ‘voters’ or ‘occupiers’ at an address. Even worse, to many organisations and institutions, we seem to be no more than numbers on a computer screen, entries in a database or figures on a spreadsheet. Perhaps before long we will be known by our biometric data or our DNA code.
Modern Western society has placed us in the middle of an unpleasant paradox. On the one hand, those organisations that watch us know far more about us than we would like them to know.
‘They’ – as we call them because we don’t know who ‘they’ are – are aware of where we shop and what we shop for, and they know not just our spending habits but our income; they apparently know all about us.
Yet the more these ‘somebodies’ out there know about us, the less they seem to care. Our problems are dealt with by call centres half a world away; we endure messages from robotic voices trying to convince us that they ‘value our custom’; and we receive computer-generated letters overflowing with synthetic friendship: ‘Dear Reverend John, we would like to inform you of a wonderful opportunity for you and your family.’ We are known both too well and too little.
In the days ahead I want us to look at Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of Christ. And look at the experience of individuals in the Bible’s account.
What we call the Christmas story is full of men and women. Some of them walk onto the pages of Scripture and then – after a brief moment – they walk off. Others that feature more prominently, such as Mary and Joseph, are those you would expect to hear about; others are less well known and some are, perhaps, surprising. But all are relevant. God is love and doesn’t just care about the human race in general but about people in particular. And that includes you and me.