"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

When the apostle John wrote them in the first century AD, he was not to know that more than 2000 years later those words of Jesus would remain among the best-known and often-quoted passages in the Bible.

For in those 25 words, Jesus himself sums up the full meaning of that first Christmas, of all that transpired up to the first Easter, and of Christianity to this day.

The birth of Jesus Christ had been heralded by an angel who proclaimed: "Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be for all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."


Of him, his parent Joseph had been told: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Thus was the prophesy fulfilled: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated 'God with us'." And so it was. With the birth of Jesus Christ, God himself came down to Earth and dwelt among his people.

The tiny hands that so entranced Mary and Joseph in the stable behind the pub in Bethlehem would one day reach out to the diseased, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the anxious, the grieving, the fearful, the helpless and the hopeless with an infinitely compassionate healing touch.

Those hands would be cruelly pierced by Roman nails in a brutal crucifixion, necessary so that from that time forward they could carry men and women to heaven.

The tiny mouth which sought his mother's breast would later speak words the like of which had never been heard before, words which told for the first time the extent of God's eternal, unquenchable love for all mankind and the depth of his desire to be fully reconciled with his children and to be allowed to be a perfect father to everyone.

Jesus drew a verbal blueprint for a perfect world to be presided over by a perfect God, then went to the Cross, the tomb, and resurrection from the dead so that all men and women might have victory over sin and death and live happily ever after.

It did not happen then, it has not happened yet. Misery continues to stalk the Earth, man's inhumanity to man continues unabated.

Thousands die in religious, ethnic and political wars; thousands more in natural disasters or from a lack of life's necessities; and greed, poverty and a continued unravelling of the moral fabric of society bring another sort of anguish to millions in the West.

Why? Because then as now, except for a handful, men and women for whom Jesus Christ came into the world choose to reject him, to see the record of his life - the greatest story ever told - as a fairytale.

But, as yet another Christmas Day approaches, the good news continues to be proclaimed throughout the world.

Jesus said: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."

And: "These things have I spoken to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

God's promise to all of new life through his Son, sealed on that first Christmas Day and renewed every Christmas since, remains open to all who will receive it.