The vicar of St Peter and St Paul Church, Fareham looks back on his time in the Holy Land
Christmas always falls at the darkest time of the year.
Against this background, we remember the birth of Jesus, who called himself the light of the world.
God entered our world to bring light into that darkness.
At the time of his birth, places like Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem were in occupied territory.
The Roman authorities demanded that all should register for a census, so Joseph and Mary travelled to the family town of Bethlehem.
On the way they would have been subject to bullying from soldiers, intimidation from the locals and exploitation from those who sold and bought. Their experience was that of refugees.
Even when they arrived, they only had permission to rest in the stable cave, and in this place of the out-casts and animals Jesus the Christ is born.
When I went to Israel, more than 18 years ago now, I was struck by the things that took me back immediately to the time of Jesus, including much of the unchanging landscape.
In Jerusalem, there were armed soldiers who mingled among the crowds in the city, just as in Jesus’s day.
We followed the route Jesus took in carrying his cross, and it felt even more real as we saw a soldier carefully scanning the crowd from a roof above the market.
In our comfortable society, I will certainly succumb to a tinselly celebration of Christmas.
I’ll experience the familiar Christmas carols and presents, and probably eat to excess.
But the experience of many today actually mirrors that of 2,000 years ago.
People like Mary and Joseph still exist in the Holy Land.
They are still at risk of violence, and some may not escape it.
Fear is everywhere. Yet, God is still in their midst, as he was at the time of Jesus. Never before has the Nativity story seemed so relevant.
Back in Fareham, you are welcome to join us as we recall that story, through our Christmas Tree Festival and our carol services.
Visit us between 11am and 7pm every day this weekend to see dozens of decorated Christmas trees, and join the Mayor of Fareham for our carol service at 6pm on Sunday.
For full details, see sspeterandpaulfareham.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
St Peter and St Paul Church is in Osborn Road, Fareham.