Sometimes we may not be happy at Christmas
We are invited in to joy – regardless of what may be going on in our lives
Christmas for us in the 21st century can be an intense time. Photograph: iStock
The anticipation and restraint of Advent find their resting place in the Winter Solstice. From then, imperceptibly, the days gather pace, the watching and the waiting change to fulfilment and joy, and the longed-for baby is born. Everyone knows that whenever a baby is born, the world becomes a different place. Nothing is ever the same again.
In one sense Jesus was an ordinary baby, birthed in the usual painful, messy, dangerous way. His family was utterly without wealth or power or influence. Yet his entry into our world had cosmic reverberations. And – if this baby actually created the cosmos – surely this was only to be expected?
It so it happened that it was outsiders who recognised that something irregular was going on that demanded attention, however inconvenient. Yet Jesus was just another baby. Babies are often considered to be a woman’s domain (after all they grow in and come out of a woman’s body and are fed from a woman’s breasts) but this baby seems to have attracted a variety of men from all shades of the social spectrum.
Shepherds on the hillside were terrified out of their wits by a crowd of heavenly beings, persuaded by these dazzling, fearsome, insistent creatures to go and find this child. The very stars and planets realigned so that distant scholars (traditionally Persian Zoroastrians) could read the signs of the times and undertake an arduous journey to track down this newborn royal. Herod, the king of the district, heard about this child and felt dangerously threatened – but that’s another story. A lot of effort went into that first Christmas.
Christmas for us in the 21st century can be an intense time too, each passing one a measuring out of our lives, a plumb-line for how we are doing in life. It goes without saying that we all want to be happy at this time of year, and the pressure to have a happy Christmas can be a burden. Do I really belong anywhere? Are my children happy enough, healthy enough, resilient enough? What is the atmosphere going to be like at our dinner table? All the Christmas advertising relentlessly portrays perfection: perfect homes, perfect food, perfect bodies, perfect romance, perfect families.
Thanks be to God, our hope at Christmas is not in ourselves, and how well we live up to these impossible standards. None of us (of course) is perfect, and sometimes we will not be happy at Christmas. We just won’t. But Christmas does not succeed or fail depending on our circumstances. Christmas is about God’s perfection – his perfect love, his perfect faithfulness, his perfect saving plan, in Jesus.
Christmas can never fail because at Christmas God came to join us in the mess of our world. Because of Christmas we are no longer alone. We are invited into joy – regardless of what may be going on in our lives – because of the honour God has paid us in putting himself at our mercy. We celebrate together, in happiness and sadness, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, and we can carry each other at those times when it’s all too much.
We believe that this everyday miracle of a new-born baby, born to a teenage mother all those years ago in Palestine, is God speaking to us through our bodies in a way that we can understand. In this baby we believe that God literally became one of us for a season, in solidarity with our flesh and blood and bone, and in doing this changed everything, forever. Christmas is a love-gift to the whole world, to every tribe and tongue, to each one of us, just as we are – today, right now, this very second. Truly there can be no such thing as a bad Christmas.
Peace and joy to each one of us this Christmas season. Let us love and treasure each other, as we remember that we are loved and treasured by the King of Kings, as Mary loved and treasured her precious baby.