Imagine what a world without all the good things spoken about in the Christmas story would look like? A world in which there is no glory, no promise of peace and redemption, no joy, no light to light up the darkness, and no love surrounding the birth of an innocent child! Although the commercialisation of Christmas leaves a lot to be desired, it still makes me happy to see the trees and the lights, the baubles and the festoons, the excitement on children’s faces as they receive presents, and the parties that turn this season into a special time of the year. There may not be much room for God in the Christmas marketplace, but at least there is still light and joy, glimmers of glory and benevolence, and a sense that there is something to celebrate.
Unfortunately, this year we have been warned that a happy Christmas might be an occasion for causing offence. Wishing someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ might be an affront to their religious sensibilities, or lack of them. Even calling it ‘Christmas’ could be considered lacking in tact, for many people would be offended that the time for festivity and parties should be associated with a minority religious affair. Even our parties must be subdued, say some, in case of wounding those who don’t drink or eat meat, or who feel offended by Christmas trees and treats. Perhaps the ‘sad affair’ that has come to represent the festive season for those who no longer believe in Christmas is a reflection of the misery and sadness that some people feel in a post-religious society? Perhaps it is a sign of the times – a time when Russia wages war on Ukraine; when there are strikes by rail workers, post workers and nurses; and a time when our society is divided, unhappy, and suffering because of rising prices and falling standards.
This sad affair of a festive season matches the sadness of our times. They are times in which there is not much glory, when peace seems as far away as ever, and in which love, joy and light are in short supply. That’s how it may seem for some, and I am sorry that they feel so sad and so offended by a story that ought to bring joy rather than offence, and a sense of gratefulness rather than disgust. But, I refuse to be sad at Christmas – without good cause, anyway! I refuse to let those who would mock my faith in the goodness of creation and human nature win! Despite all the difficulties that surround believing in the Christmas Story when it is turned into Christian doctrine and dogma, I refuse to let go of this story because of what it offers to the world – the vision that it contains.
The Christmas Story is a story to warm the heart and to raise the imagination. It is a story in which angels announce good news, news of great joy; in which shepherds run eagerly to see the birth of a new-born child; in which an innocent child is surrounded by the love of a mother and father; and in which wise men follow a star and arrive to shower the new-born with gifts that are fit for a king. Joy, love, and the giving of gifts turn this into a story about what we all need. We all need good news that will set us rejoicing; we all need love that will make us feel cared for and welcomed; we all need gifts that will lift our spirits and help us on our way; and we all need the light of the star to guide us when we lose our way. The glory of God is not to be found in the doctrine of the incarnation (something for academics to ponder on), but in the story of God reaching into the ordinary, humble circumstances of the birth of an innocent child to fill our hearts with joy, love, peace and light. What could be wrong with that?