"If the truth about the nativity doesn't reach our heart, then we shall sense none of the sweetness or solace which lies there. We will not truly laugh or be merry.
There is such richness and goodness here that if we deeply understand, we should be wrapped in perpetual joy". Martin Luther - Christmas sermons.
"Did you have a good Christmas?"
That will be the question in around a week's time. The answer will often be along the lines of "well, it was alright, and the kids enjoyed it", harping back, perhaps, just a touch to the "magic" we once knew on those breath-taking nights when we were excited about the idea that something special was going to happen on that night. It wasn't just the presents, or all the food, or the visits from family - there was a sense that something major was going on, and it called for merriment and celebration.
Christmas is about the most staggering moment in all of space and time.
It doesn't happen in a hadron collider or a nuclear detonation, but in the very everyday event of a mother having a child, and that tells us something truly profound about our being here, and the God who made us.
John's gospel begins by speaking about the Word - logos - being made flesh and dwelling amongst us (John 1:1-18). The Greek word he uses here is filled with meaning, including:
the means by which the deepest inward thought and intent is expressed
the source of such thought
the giving of such deep intent by reflection and deliberation
the employment of calculation and reckoning
the implementation of action following deep consideration
the implementation of action in proportion to all else
the implementation of things on the grounds of what is truly reasonable
In the coming of Jesus, we encounter the deepest longing and intent of God our Father.
Like a seed, Logos encapsulates choice, inquiry, harmony, truth, and the deep expression of these in our world, which is no doubt why John speaks of the Word as light, shattering the darkness as He brings light of the most glorious kind amongst us.
Christmas unwrapped isn't about things that are far away, but a God who is very present in the very nitty-gritty of our world - being nursed at a mother's breast, enjoying good wine and company at a wedding (John 2) or breakfast on a beach (John 21). The Word has been made flesh and dwelt among us.
That's both the joy and the irritation of Christmas. We don't have to look very far to see that what is special is the way in which God Himself wants to say yes to all that we rightly delight in that's good in life, but we're also aware of our own poverty inside and how that spoils so much.
There is an answer. The Word came to give us life - the gift amongst the wrapping - so that we might be truly human once again... Not perfect, not yet anyway, but knowing that Christmas means the darkness is broken, and there is now a joy even amidst our trials and pain.
The 'magic' of this season isn't very far away at all, so as you hear the carols, or look at the nativity on a Christmas card or in a school play, consider what's really going on. God, in Christ, reconciling us to Himself by His amazing Grace and Truth.
The joy of the season to us all!
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
James Donovan: Aren't you worried?
Rudolf Abel: Would it help?
From Stephen Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies".
Do you ever wonder what this season is all about?
Hearing of the conditions in Cumbria this weekend left me chilled to the bone as I proceeded to see, again, images of vast swathes of the country deluged and people struggling to hold on to their homes and lives amidst the trauma.
And then came Monday morning, and the news that I'm facing redundancy at work - the third occasion of this in a decade.
Christmas can often appear somewhat detached from such events, especially as people revel in the delight of good times and good company amidst warmth and cheer.
That's until we recall the first Christmas.
Matthew records how there was a slaughter of innocents. Luke describes a birth amidst hardship and squalor in a place far from home, as well as Shepherds terrified as heaven literally burst into the skies above them.
Unsettling times, surrounding the one who came to bring us peace.
It can be really hard to find peace most of the time in our world, especially when circumstances make us want to worry about security, comfort and aid, but Jesus comes to say that above and beyond such issues (and the struggle to keep them), there is actually something more important - the peace that He brings.
This life is brief, but the splendor it speaks about is really what counts, and that is often where Jesus points us. Consider the array of the lillies, He says, and how none of even our best finery even comes close to what we see here, in creation. If God, he asks, so adorns something that's here and then gone, then what about you? Why do we spend so much time troubled about things that are momentary. No doubt, so often, because we often find them truly unsettling, as they often are, but there's more to see. Life's real splendor, He's saying, should cause us to look further, delve deeper, into what's really going on amidst all the tragedy and triumph. If we don't understand that, then it all just becomes a series of unrelated and irrelevant events, topped with futility and death, but Jesus wants us to invest it all in the surety of God's immediate and present life and purpose. That's where real peace and comfort lye.
The Christmas nativity affirms the vital relevance of the name given to Jesus - Immanuel (God with us). That's what really counts, and it means, as we come to another Christmas, we can begin to see something wonderful at the heart of our time here.
God is with us, to deliver us and make these checkered days vital and valuable.
Truly, then, there are tidings of joy, even amidst the pain.