One of the reasons the UK was successful in its bid to host the 2012 Olympics was the detailed planning for what Lord Coe described as the legacy of the games: what would remain when all the glitz and excitement had faded. A couple of years after that successful bid the media was full of articles about what Tony Blair’s legacy would be as he stepped down from his position as prime minister. One hundred years earlier Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, left the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes because he wanted a better legacy than being remembered as the man who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.
Legacy is important. It was right for Lord Coe to include plans for the legacy of the Olympics as part of this country’s bid to hold them. It is right for politicians and scientists and, indeed, for all of us, to consider the legacy of our time here on earth, however large or small that might be.
As we gather here in the early hours of Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of a child born 2000 years ago, it is both interesting and helpful to consider his legacy. Listen to these words written by Dr James Allan Francis in 1926 taken from a meditation entitled One Solitary Life:
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a Carpenter’s shop until he was thirty and then for three years he was a travelling preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held public office. He never went to college. He never owned a house. He never had a family. He never set foot in what we would call a big city. He never travelled even two hundred miles from the place he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
Two thousand years have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched; all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the monarchs that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.
Despite the attempts of the militant atheists to convince us that religion has no place in twenty-first century life, that powerful influence continues today, even for many who are not regular church goers.
It is expected that some 22 million people in this country will have attended a church service over this Christmas period. Despite the rush of modern life and the over commercialisation of the season, one in three of our population will have left the comfort of their homes to come and hear again and to be part of the Christmas Story. Why is that?
One of the reasons is that the story of the birth of Jesus works for us all, no matter what our concept of God may be. Whether we believe in God as the creator of all things or, at the other end of the scale, we believe in him as the sum total of all that is good in the world, the Christmas story allows us to picture him in terms that we can understand - as a baby child. The picture of Shepherds, tough manual workers, leaving their sheep to go and see a new-born baby confirms that this is an event for everyone to celebrate.
The onward march of science and technology has taught us to ask questions about everything. That can only be good, but it is important to ask the right questions. Historical investigations questioning whether or not Emperor Augustus really ordered a census or scientific investigations questioning the appearance of a very bright star in 7 BC are all very interesting, but they fail to understand the true legacy of the man whose birth we celebrate today. The questions we should ask are things like:
- Can learning more about the life
of Jesus help me to live a better life here today? or
- Can reading the stories that Jesus told help me to solve my day to day problems?
The answer to these questions is most assuredly yes.
The true and continuing legacy of this child, this man, is that he can indeed help us to live a better life and, in so doing, to radically change for the better the legacy that each of us will eventually leave behind us. All we have to do is to let him into our lives.