It’s Advent – the four weeks before Christmas – and I’ve been struck by the number of times I’ve heard the phrase ‘Sure that’s what Christmas is all about’. It seems to me that we all want to know what it’s all about, we all want others to know what it’s all about – and maybe in the end of the day we’re all a bit confused as to what it’s all about.
Here are some of the things I’ve heard or read in the last few weeks – I’m sure you will identify and sympathise with at least some of them:
It’s a glimmer of hope: ‘The whole point of Christmas is that – whatever your religious beliefs – it should be a celebration of hope in the gloomiest, darkest month of the year.’
Or it’s about fun: ‘Christmas is all about fun, so enjoy it.’
On the other side of the coin, the person feeling the pressure of the season – and who hasn’t? – says: ‘It’s all about making food for people to eat, serving it and clearing up afterwards. I’ll be glad when it’s over.’
And – on a similar vein – ‘It’s a pain in the backside. Just an excuse for commercialism’.
So what about this – is this getting nearer to the truth? ‘Christmas is not about buying expensive gifts, but spending as much time with your family as you possibly can.’
Or what about this perspective? ‘Christmas is a wonderful chance to take stock. I don’t take any of our good fortune for granted but instead thank God that everyone is healthy – that’s the best Christmas preent I could receive.’
And here’s a more spiritual approach: ‘Christmas is really about sharing life and love with friends and family in the darkest month of the year. If it’s all getting too much, find a place of worship to sit in and calm your nerves, or light a candle and meditate on the flame.’
So, what is Christmas all about? Fun? Family? A time to take stock? Eating too much? Spending too much?
I think many of us can identify with most of the statements above. We enjoy the food and the gifts and the family-gatherings. We like the ‘feel good’ factor about Christmas. I was struck recently on a visit to a well-known coffee shop to see words like PEACE and JOY and LOVE decorating the walls for Christmas. These are things which help produce that warm fuzzy feeling we associate with Christmas – things we all yearn for and yet things which seem terribly elusive in our world of economic recession, cancer and war.
So is Christmas just an excuse to indulge ourselves so as to forget reality in the darkest month of the year? Is there no more to it than that?
Or if you’re a Christian, is it about multiple carol services and Sunday School plays and youth performances? Do you tend to get to Christmas Eve exhausted from the sheer busyness of it all?
I had the privilege of attending a concert on Friday night by the New Irish Orchestra – and what an evening it was! We got to sing our old favourite carols, experience the feel-good factor of the nostalgia which they bring (the audience singing ‘Away in a Manger’ accapella was a wonderful reminder of childhood) – but we were also brought face to face with what surely is the real meaning of Christmas.
At the heart of the festivities, the food and the fun lies the reason for the season: God sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world! The unique omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God, Creator of the universe, stepped into time, taking the form of a little vulnerable human baby – in order to save us from our sins. What a miracle! What grace! What great news! What cause for fun and festivity and family gatherings!
At the concert, the orchestra performed a song based on these words by Derick Bingham which encapsulate it all:
From Behind the Sun
Again Lord by the Spirit’s power,
We’d capture the wonder of the hour
When Deity stooped down to possess
A little infant child, no less
Lord we would seek to comprehend
That you, the beginnng and the end,
Creator of stars and galaxies could lie in Mary’s arms at ease
We thrill O Lord to see you come;
The Light from far behind the Sun,
To lighten our despairing world as grace upon grace unfurled,
For God so loved the world He gave
His only Son our souls to save,
And now with worship unconcealed
We gaze at Glory gently veiled
So let’s make sure we put CHRIST back at the beginning of CHRISTmas!