(I wanted to write an article for the local papers about why I think Jesus’ coming is worth celebrating. Only 400 of these words are supposed to be in the paper :). I’m still trying to whittle away at it!)
At this stage of December it can be hard to feel excited about Christmas. You’ve endured advertising, supermarkets, shops… (and accompanying muzak)! You’ve squeezed in a dozen extra events: end of year concerts, school awards, carol nights, Christmas drinks… You’re anticipating the joy and/or stress of a family gathering or two: the logistics, and the relationships. And for many, there’s the strain of trying to make money stretch in too many directions; maybe even buying presents you can’t afford for people you’d rather not give to! A Merry Christmas, indeed!
It takes a determined effort not to lose sight of what we’re meant to be celebrating. Our culture pumps out particular messages about Christmas – most with a price tag attached. This year, a simple idea has helped our family. It happens each night, after we open the advent calendar, and read some of the Christmas story. We’re taking turns at writing something we appreciate about Jesus on a bright paper shape, and attaching it to our Christmas tree. (Of course, the youngest draws a picture and writes her name when it’s her turn.)
I’m guessing you might be steeling yourself for the religious tirade that has to be tolerated at these special holidays! Please rest assured: I’m as allergic to religious tirades as anyone, because I don’t think goodness, truth and hope can be communicated, or discovered, that way. My own spiritual journey needed about a decade of deeply struggling through questions, wounds, and the confusion that can come from our culture. Cynicism was a posture that came easily… as life showed me that I wasn’t in control, pain was inevitable, & the world – and (a much later recognition) I, myself – was never able to be what I had hoped.
But what if there is another response to our disappointed hopes and ideals than cynicism (&/or escapism?) What if those ideals, dreams and hopes actually have a source, a purpose and a fulfillment?
I keep hearing the old carol:
The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight…
…in Bethlehem: in the coming of Emmanuel (God with us). For me, these aren’t just nice words, they are the answer to my longings; because Jesus does embody my hopes, and speaks to the fears (and cynicism) of the years. Not only that, but if you read the accounts of his life, he is fascinating, passionate, fearless, loving (beyond imagining), complex and creative. He lives what he teaches, and gives his followers what they need to live it too – in deep friendship with Him. This is why Christians celebrate Christmas, because we believe it was God showing us the whole picture of who He is (Heb 1:1-3).
Each year I spend a few months reading slowly through at least one of the four accounts of Jesus’ life (the first four books of the New Testament). I try to read it as if I’ve never read it before, never heard a story in Scripture or Sunday School, never heard anyone’s ideas about it. I’m looking intently to see who Jesus is. What is important to him? What is he passionate about? Who does he love (& who loves him)? What makes him angry? What things raise more questions for me?
I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, and I’m still not bored with it. In fact, I keep finding more evidence that Jesus is worthy of my time and all my energies. When I see how he responds to hurting people, when I see his fury with exploitation and greed, when I hear his radical teaching on love, forgiveness, humility, integrity, sacrifice, peace and joy… all of this stuff stirs up the deepest longings of my life. When I see ordinary, weak people in history, and today, genuinely encountering Jesus, coming clean with him, and surrendering their will to him… I get amazed at how what Jesus taught and achieved can actually be lived.
On Q&A last month, Peter Hitchens said that the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead was the most dangerous idea we could ever encounter. Why? Because…
…it turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which
there is justice and there is hope; and therefore we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. (If we reject it, it alters us all as well…)
So, when I celebrate Christmas, this is the sort of reality that I’m trying to keep at the front. And what a reality it is, what an antidote to cynicism, what a reason to celebrate… every day!