It’s Christmas Day tomorrow!
In many Western countries at least, it will be very different from any other Christmas in our memories. Without all the partying and feasting, present-opening and drinking with family and friends, perhaps there is more time to reflect on “the reason for the season”. What is Christmas all about? Is there actually anything to celebrate this year, in the midst of so much confusion and loneliness, suffering and sickness, spoiled plans and curtailed shopping?
When I ran Confirmation Preparation groups many years ago, I asked people, as a discussion starter, which of the major Christian Festivals they thought was the most important, the most significant theologically and spiritually. Is it Christmas, or Good Friday, or Easter Sunday – or perhaps even Pentecost or Trinity Sunday?
“Christmas – because without the birth of Jesus, there wouldn’t be a Christian story.”
“No, it’s Good Friday – because without the crucifixion, there would be no redemption or salvation.”
“It’s Easter – unless Jesus had risen from the dead, his death would have been the end of the story.”
Christmas is certainly the festival which is most significant for millions of people around the world, even if they aren’t Christians. Easter marks the beginning of spring in Europe, the first public holiday of the year and an excuse to eat a lot of chocolate! Good Friday is just another day for most now, with shops and many offices open – just like any other day.
I have changed my mind over the years, each of the days getting my vote at different times as my thinking and faith has developed. If I have to choose, I would now go with Christmas.
God has always been fully incarnated in the created, material, physical world but not often recognised, even within humanity. God is at the core of creation, especially at the core of every person. God’s imprint or “DNA” has always been present in Creation. But we often struggle to recognise God or to see anything of God’s “image and likeness” within ourselves or everyone else.
The significance of Christmas is that the “Creator-Spirit, the Christ, the Word, became human”. God the Creator gave himself completely to humanity as a vulnerable baby born into poverty, experiencing refugee status, homelessness and rejection. This is the unique insight and experience which Jesus offered the world – the visible Incarnation of God in a specific person at a specific time and place, to reveal to all God’s Way, God’s Truth and eternal Life. What was so often hidden about God was revealed once and for all.
What Christmas shows us is that God is not some remote Spirit-being beyond but yet in control of the world and all that happens, as so many Christians (mistakenly) believe. God is within each one of us. Far from being outside and in control, planning what happens in the world, deciding that Muslim Uighurs, Rohingya refugees or Yemeni children should be persecuted, and which mothers and fathers should die of COVID, God has chosen instead to live within us, suffering with each of us whilst showing us the truth, giving us peace and hope that there is always new life after every form of death.
The true meaning and hope of Christmas is that God is with us, through every circumstance, whether we recognise him or not. During a simpler and quieter Christmas season, may you discover and experience this truth in new ways both now and on into the future, whatever 2021 may hold.