How has this last week been for you? Often the week before Christmas is chaotic and frenetic as we fuss over gifts, cards, celebrations, travelling and menus. For some this can be almost overwhelming and for others, well, it hasn’t finished just yet – we’ve still got a few more days of catching up with family, eating, travelling and hopefully sleeping.
Many years ago with great wit and originality C.S. Lewis wrote a short mock historical account of Christmas called X-Mas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus. His story describes the customs of a small island called “Niatirb” (which is “Britain” spelt backwards) where the inhabitants suffer from their efforts to conform to a winter celebration they call X-Mas. The custom requires they buy cards and gifts for each other, even those they don’t know; and this leaves them totally exhausted. There is more to the story (and you can click here if you want to read it). Sometimes I think we can all feel a bit like that at this time of year.
In reality, Christmas is a wonderful time where we celebrate the hope of the coming of the Saviour. Yet, in the midst of the celebrations there is a painful reminder that all is not right in the world. This year is no exception with the likelihood that the global economy will only get worse, that the planet is warming, that another boatload of refugees has sunk, and that too many children still do not have access to adequate food, shelter and clean water.
Some may think it is a bit sombre and morbid to bring up such topics at Christmas, but the reality is that Christmas doesn’t make sense if the world is perfect and everyone is happy.
Christmas is the celebration of God stepping into the chaos and the mess of our world. Its central message is that God has done something about the problems by entering into our broken, rebellious world as a baby with the sole aim of rescuing and redeeming it.
That’s why people come to celebrate at churches all over the world on Christmas Day. As we gather we remind ourselves again of the hope we have in Jesus Christ in spite of our personal circumstances, and the circumstances of the world. Christmas is not sentimental wishful thinking, but confidence that God has not given up on us.
In Matthew’s gospel it says, “They shall call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (1:23). Christmas is a reminder that God desires to be among us; the God who made the universe wants to share in our human lives. But he doesn’t save us or the world by taking us out of it or by taking our pain away, but by joining us in his world. He doesn’t act from a distance or use a proxy, but takes upon humanity’s pain, sorrow and rebellion himself.
On Christmas Day we not only celebrate an event that took place in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, but the reality that is with us here today – in our time of celebration, in our times with our families, over our meal tables and in the smallest details of our lives.
Not only was God with them then in first century Palestine, his presence is a reality for us to day. In a very real sense the incarnation has never ceased and never will. God’s choice to take on human nature, human flesh and blood, mind and feeling, is as real and immediate to us today as it was in Bethlehem.
As we celebrate Christmas in 2011, let us do so with hope in our hearts that God is still at work in the world and there is more rescuing to be done, and even if our lives are chaotic and messy, broken and unresolved, God is with us in the midst of it all.
Stephen L Baxter