Happy Christmas! Why do we see Christmas as a unique time of hope and celebration? I suppose that any opportunity for a midwinter party with a focus on family getting together has its obvious attractions but, beyond that, what is really special about Christmas? We celebrate the birth of Jesus, yes – but what does that signify that it should cause us to be happy? What difference does it really make?
Another way of putting this is to ask what all the statements we hear in Christmas services add up to. A couple of years ago I sat in Church on Christmas Eve (not the Church I am a member of I hasten to add!) listening to a rather unimaginative and, frankly, unengaging, exposition of the connection between Christmas and the forgiveness of sins, salvation and so forth and my mind wandered to what I would say if it were me up there (something I do a lot, I’m afraid). This is what I thought and, at the time, it seemed so vivid, I wrote it down as soon as I got home. It’s a bit sketchy maybe, but I reproduce it now almost exactly as I wrote it then.
For me the key theme is light. The Christmas story is full of it – the star, the angels appearing to the shepherds, and the statement of St John that in Christ the light shines in the darkness.
We are like people in a darkened room. We see dimly – we have an idea about what is there, but then the light is turned on and we see it properly for the first time – and it is rather different from what we imagined.
Jesus shines a light on the world that shows it to be different from what we believe it to be. In him we see everything in a new light. What does that light reveal? The Christmas story gives us clues, introduces themes that will be more fully explored later in the Gospels.
It turns out that many things that seem important to us do not really matter. Status, for example, does not matter (Jesus is born of Mary, a person of no social importance, in a stable, and is seen first by a shepherds, a group of very low status). It is the poor who see God, who inherit the Kingdom.
And underneath this is the assertion that all shall be well – that in the end we are all safe. ‘Peace on earth and good will to all men.’ It does not mean that we will not go through dreadful experiences – but in the end we are safe. The world belongs to God who loves us and calls us his children.
Therefore we do not need to fear loss. We do not need to act to protect or build our status, our position. These after all, are the concerns that drive us away from love, and towards ‘sin’. If we open our eyes we can change that.
This is not something that we will ‘get’ all at once, or find always evident to us. We will lose sight of it, probably frequently, daily – and then we will need the forgiveness – but if we want to, we can live in a different world whilst living very fully in this world. This is what it is all about, this is what prayer and religion is for. We are invited to keep looking anew at the world, to rediscover it, to meet God in it and stand in the light.
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