When we look around us in these days it is easy to know Christmas is approaching! The sights and sounds surround us all – lights, decorations, music and celebrations.
But at the first Christmas there were only a few people who knew what was happening. They, too, struggled to make sense of it even as they rejoiced at the news.
And some must have lived to regret that they didn’t know.
“Sorry, I’m full up. I’ve no room left. If you’re stuck, try the stable around the back.”
What must the inn-keeper have thought years later when people came around to look for the place where Jesus was born? They reminded him of the night he turned away the travel-weary tradesman and his pregnant wife from the north. He was so busy seeing after his pre-booked guests that he missed the greatest privilege imaginable — that the Son of God could have been born in a room in his house. It’s little wonder he remained anonymous — ashamed to admit it later.
Christians celebrate the birth of Christ because this was the moment God changed the course of human history. Our God chose to take on our humanity, to walk among us as a person in our world of love, pain, joy, hurt, tears, laughter, the noise, the silence and the messiness of ordinary life. Through his life he showed us how to love, how to forgive, how to share and how to listen. He told us that we are all equal and showed us how we should treat one another.
Christmas is not about a magical event, a Cinderella story without midnight. Rather its very centre speaks of humiliation, pain and forced fleeing. The Christmas story mirrors the struggles that are being experienced within our own world and within our own hearts. It is within our own personal tragedies and struggles — the death of loved ones, lost marriages, lost families, lost health, lost jobs, tiredness and frustration — that we meet Christ.
Hence, in truth, we can celebrate at Christ’s birth without denying or trivialising the reality of evil in our world and the real pain in our lives.
Christmas promises Emmanuel, God-is-with-us (Matt. 1:23). God’s presence in our lives redeems because knowing that God is with us is what empowers us to give up bitterness, to forgive and to move beyond cynicism towards hope. When God is with us then pain and happiness are not mutually exclusive and the agonies and riddles of life do not rule out deep meaning and deep joy.
We give thanks at this time with family, friends and all who are close to us for the many ways we encounter Christ during the year in our lives. These times include all the ups and downs of life when out of love for one another and in gratitude to God we both receive and reflect his light.
Our prayer is that this Christmas time will be a time of deepening our awareness of the presence of Christ who is active in our world – even where we least expect to find him; that we may find ways where we can meet Christ as we reach out to others with his compassion, hope, love, joy and peace.