The Real Meaning Of Christmas
This week I received another e-mail from a retired colleague. It is an American rap about Christmas. Here goes:
'Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
Why the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a 'Holiday'.
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CD's from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holiday!
Please, all Christians join together and wish everyone you meet
The world does not celebrate the birth of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great or Boadicea or William Wallace. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus because he is a living person, not because he was born a long time ago. The true context of Jesus' birth is not our life and society and culture. It is evidence of something else, different, special, a spiritual universe, the Kingdom of God, eternal life to come.
The real meaning of Christmas is a corrective to the values of our nation and people. Jesus reversed the importance of fame and wealth and substituted goodness, humility, contentment and peace. Mary and Joseph belonged to the working poor; they were not destitute but they did not have a lot. The were pious Jews with reverence for God in their hearts. God could approach them and they would listen. They had an ear for God. Do you? Or do you shut God out? Some people have spent their entire lives running away from God. Mary and Joseph were not running away from God. Their inward disposition was towards God. And that was what made them co-operate with God's great plan. Do you think that they knew that forever on earth they would be recognised, talked about and valued? Mary's Song in St Luke's Gospel suggests that she did know. 'From now on all generations will call me blessed', she said. That has happened. Her words came true. More so now than ever.
The real meaning of Christmas is that we live in a dimension of existence which includes God who is otherwise physically invisible. All the concentration of scientists is on the physical universe such that we can see before us. It is mind-boggling huge and far beyond our capacity to comprehend at this point in time. Scientists are desperate to find out how our existence came to be. They tell us that there are billions of universes and billions of galaxies which have existed for billions of years. They don't know what exists beyond unless it's more of the same thing. But how far and how long? No-one knows.
But Jesus told us that God's Kingdom is within us. He said that if two or three gather in His name he will be in our midst. He said 'I am with you always to the end of the world'. He said If you open the door of your heart to me to let me in I will come in and stay with you. Countless Christians have found that to be true. It has happened for them. 'What a friend we have in Jesus'... This tells us that within and around us is a field of life and spiritual power stronger and greater than our physical strength and days. We cannot see electricity but we see its effect, its power, its light, the machines it drives. We cannot see radio, television and telephone waves but we know their effects. We hear people's voices in our homes. We see people in far parts of the world doing all sorts of things at the very moment they are doing them. We speak to family members when they are shopping in Tesco and even when they are on the other side of the world. We don't see music but we hear its sound. We haver immense feelings of love but we cannot see them. The most important things in life are not physical but our lives are physical and without the connection to our bodies we do not exist. If we discover this by discovering Jesus Christ, it places everything that we do and all that happens to us in a different context. We don't just bump into each other and pass one another by. We are part of God's life and eternal kingdom. What one theologian called The Eternal Now. Our words and actions are not hidden as we might hope. Our sins are transparent. Our good deeds are noted. Our secret life and living is the real one. What we do as we rush about struggling to survive is something external. The birth of Jesus confirms to us that this is true. In a stable, in a small place, on the far edge of known civilisation at the time, seemingly inconsequential, but frighteningly powerful in potential.
The real meaning of Christmas is the message of unconditional grace, love and peace. We should not take this for granted. Any peace in the human community is hard won as we have been recalling in this centenary anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The Christmas truce when German and British soldiers stopped killing one another on Christmas Day 1914 was inspired by the words of the angel to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests'. That Christmas truce lasted only for a day. They went back to killing one another. Today we see the stark contrast between the merciless beheading of western hostages by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Christmas message of peace. Which is God's true will? Which would you want it to be? The message of Jesus' resurrection is that it is the way of peace that is the true way and the way of love is more powerful than the anger, bitterness, hatred and violence. That was why Jesus died as He did. To confirm and corroborate His birth. The Son of God.
Jesus living within us changes us into people of peace. We are at peace with God, we are at peace with others, we are at peace with ourselves. If the world is to know peace, then it can only be when everyone lives in peace. It has never happened. But it could. We have the example, the life, the gift, the Person, we have Jesus. And this is the real meaning of Christmas also. It is no small thing. It is not to be relegated by politicians into the category 'religion'. It is not to be side lined. It is not to be turned into the blasphemy of commercialism nor into the false emotions of entertainments. It is not to be debauched in drunkenness and over-eating, lecherous partying and insincere and false greetings. Christmas deserves better than what we make of it.
But the real meaning of Christmas is yours for the asking, yours for the taking, yours for the living. The real meaning is Jesus Himself, alive and well, our everlasting Prince of Peace and Living Lord. Just the same – He hasn't changed. He is still also the Babe of Bethlehem. 'I love Thee, Lord Jesus Look down from the sky And stay by my side, 'Til morning is nigh. Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever And love me I pray.
He does. He will.