The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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A time of tension and the promise of peace

How would you describe the year that was 2023? How about ‘tense’?

It’s not the whole story, of course, but over the past 12 months, Russia’s war in Ukraine has continued, fighting has persisted in Myanmar and countless African nations, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dramatically escalated. Concerns about China have grown, natural disasters have occurred, and global temperatures have broken all records. In the UK, the consequences of Brexit continue to reverberate, and we’ve witnessed soaring energy prices, a cost-of-living crisis, strikes, and public services at breaking point.

Everything changes. Everything stays the same. The first-century world into which Jesus was born was unbelievably tense, too. He grew up in an atmosphere of political conflict, upheaval, and social discontent.

The Roman Empire was dominant. Caesar Augustus was tax-hungry. Indeed, it was because he demanded a census be taken of all his conquered lands that Mary and Joseph were forced to travel to Bethlehem. The taxes of the poor – 90% of the population – were used to boost the wealth of rulers.

Herod the Great, appointed by Rome, ruled Judea, Samaria, and Galilee as a police state. He had a reputation for being a murderer and a thug. ‘If Herod wanted to do away with you,’ observed John P. Meier, ‘he could slit the throat of anyone he wanted.’

It was into this world that the angels told a group of shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid’ (Luke 2:10). In Bethlehem, a Saviour had been born, and he (not Caesar, Herod, nor anyone else) was Christ the Lord. He would save his people from their sins. In the birth of Jesus, God cut through the tension and established a true and everlasting kingdom built on justice and righteousness.

It’s difficult to predict how 2024 will unfold. It’s unlikely that tensions will disappear anytime soon, not least with general elections taking place on both side of the Atlantic. But the message of the angels to the shepherds in the 1st Century remains their message to us in the 21st Century: ‘Do not be afraid.’

In the birth of Jesus, a down-to-earth God comes to save us from ourselves. Jesus brings true peace and true freedom which, if we let him, will not only transform us but the world around us. This is good news of great joy for all people!

Have a very Happy Christmas and a truly peaceful New Year!

Paul Woolley


  1. Thank you.

    By Matt Lowe  -  22 Dec 2023
  2. In the above text you have written this


    Please let me know how you obtained this information

    Many thanks

    Happy Cristmas

    By C Dempster  -  22 Dec 2023
  3. Thank for putting things into perspective. We have got so used to seeing the Nativity through the children playing the parts, that we forget that everything had it’s consequences for all the people concerned. We no longer separate the shepherds and the kings visits, nor do we mention Herod’s actions regarding the birth of Jesus, the flight into Egypt might be hinted at, but that’s all. No wonder that the majority of the population have a skewed idea of the Bible story and not realise that the Christmas story is one of hope and God’s love and redemption for all of us. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt that said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. I wish you all a happy new year, and I echo Paul’s sentiment DO NOT BE AFRAID.

    By Lynn Hezlett  -  27 Dec 2023
  4. Really disappointed with such unbalanced UK comments – all blame on Brexit and no mention of covid

    By MRS SANDRA J MARTIN  -  30 Dec 2023

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