I love Christmas. But I often feel that the Christmas I love and the Christmas I celebrate do not always seem to be the same thing … and I don’t think that I’m alone in this.
The Christmas I celebrate has two main features – Church and family. That’s good. That’s a big part of what I love.
I love exchanging presents. I love Christmas dinner – with all the trimmings. I love the tree, the crib, the cards (well, most of them, anyway). I love the traditions.
I love going to Church over the Christmas season, even though it leaves me exhausted by halfway through Christmas Day. I love singing carols (well, most of them). I love the crib service. I love the Midnight Mass – and the other eucharists. I love the bells pealing out on Christmas Day. I love the anthems the choir prepare. I love the way our churches are decorated so beautifully.
But all of this, lovely as it is can as easily obscure the truths revealed about God in the Incarnation of Christ. Christmas gives me both feelings of joy and delight, and, it gives me feelings of deep unease.
The exchanging of gifts, the over-indulgence in food and drink, the partying and the jollity can so easily make us lose sight of the fact that the world is not a perfect place. Not everybody enjoys Christmas – not everybody has even the most basic essentials for a comfortable and healthy existence. The world is an unjust and unfair place. In Cumbria people are anxiously fearing more flooding over the Christmas holiday. In the Eastern Mediterranean refugees are still risking their lives to find a better existence for their families away from the cruelty and barbarity of IS and the chaos and vindictiveness of the awful Assad regime in Syria. In every town, city and village in our own country there are families relying on the generosity of others as they get by over Christmas because of the food parcels they have received from their local food bank. 64 000 families in England and Wales are living in temporary accommodation and many other people are homeless and reliant of night shelters and organisations like Crisis. And there is much more going on in our world that we could name.
Many of us, I know, feel this and, as a result make gifts, often generous ones, to charities at Christmas. We feel the need to make a difference, even if it is only as tiny one.
But even our Church celebration can hide the reality of what Incarnation is all about. So many of our carols, so much of our thinking, so many of our Christmas sermons focus on the baby in the manger in Bethlehem. We make Christmas a celebration in which we expect to feel good about ourselves and about the world and about what God did in coming as a baby in Bethlehem. Our Christmas services can so often give us the sense that all is right with the world. Perhaps part of the reason for this is so many who don’t usually worship with us join us for our Christmas services and we don’t want to offend them or have them go away thinking that we’re a miserable bunch in Church.
We let the secular jollity take over and put ourselves in danger of not noticing the real Jesus, the real God become human. We miss completely the wonder that is a God who loves us so much that he sent his Son into the world. In Jesus God became human. He united forever the human and divine. Christmas reveals that not only is God come down to earth, but we are taken up to heaven. Human beings with all their imperfections, all their sinfulness, all their enmity, division, cruelty. God accepts us as we are and redeems it, loves us before we repent and gives us grace, but never compels us, to be changed and made new.
My prayer this Christmas is that I, and you, will be able to see the Word made flesh who loves us so much that he became human to save us and to make us divine.