Which is the most important Christian festival: Christmas, Good Friday or Easter? Or even Ascension Day or Pentecost? Commercially and in modern western culture at least, it is Christmas, followed by Easter. Although Good Friday is still officially a Bank Holiday in the UK, the retail industry ignores that, while Pentecost (Whitsun) and Ascension are no longer even holidays, but have been replaced by other days.
It’s actually quite a profound question. What is your answer? I now think that perhaps Christmas is the most significant (note the “perhaps”), but is that because Christmas Day is only a few days away!
We are surrounded by the most amazing universe and world. Even the sciences still can’t explain how it all started although they are revealing so many extraordinary wonders as people go further back in time and space whilst also delving deeper into the minutest structures, showing a universal pattern and system which is both incredibly complex whilst also being simple. I haven’t always believed that God is the source and creator of everything, including humankind – but how else has everything been made out of nothing?
It’s significant that the Bible says that God created humankind in God’s own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), albeit through evolutionary processes. God is at the core of everything in creation, but especially so in people. God’s very Being is intrinsically part of every person, giving us life and light; and God has given us the same free will that he has – the freedom to make choices. But history and cultures and religions all over the world, including the Bible, tell the story of humankind repeatedly making the wrong choices and ignoring the fact that God is present in and an intrinsic part of the whole of creation.
The birth of Jesus, to an insignificant and poor couple who were not even married, and at an insignificant time in terms of the evolution of creation, was God’s most dramatic attempt to show us his Way, his Truth and his Life (John 14:6). Jesus really was an ordinary human being who, as he “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52), was learning to recognise that God was part of his being as well as beyond him, and that he had the freedom of choice whether or not to live according to God’s Truth in God’s Way (eg: Matthew 4). But it was a struggle for him – which is reassuring for us!
By recognising and allowing the Being of God within him to develop and grow as a result of the choices he made, Jesus showed us what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. In a world where we all so often make the wrong choices, Jesus ended up being killed because people chose to reject God’s Way and ignore the Truth whereas Jesus continued to make the right choices, hard though it was.
The ordinary, human birth of Jesus, which we are about to celebrate once again, really does give hope and assurance that God is not only around us and above us, or even just with us and in us. He is somehow an intrinsic part of our very being, making us in his image and likeness. Just as Jesus was conceived and grew within and beyond Mary, so also God created our inmost selves in his image, knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs. God knows us through and through – our beings held no secrets from God while we were being formed in secret (Psalm 139:13-15). Having been made in the image and likeness of God and been born, just as Jesus was, we all have the potential to live as Jesus did when we recognise and trust the deepest meaning and truth of the birth of God within Jesus. May we discover more fully the Way, the Truth and Life as we recognise and acknowledge that God is within and part of each one of us, as revealed in Jesus, and that just as Jesus was raised from death to eternal Life, so also are we. God’s Light is in the world for eternity and is in each one of us – it can never be completely extinguished or overcome by darkness, no matter what our circumstances are.
Come, let us celebrate!