What exactly is it that we celebrate at Christmas? The birth of the Christ of course, the one anointed by God, but what does his birth mean? First of all it means that God is among us in the messiness of our human condition. God took on our humanity as it is. He lived and walked among us with all the chaos of our world, which really hasn’t changed that much since then. We still have plenty of corruption and violence, just as there was in the time of Jesus. Palestine was an occupied country at the time, occupied by the Romans who could be extremely brutal. And yet Jesus comes into the middle of this. So he knows what it is like to live in the middle of chaos, injustice, sickness and all the difficulties that we live with. He is with us in this.
The event of Christmas also shows us that He came in the most unexpected way. The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah, the anointed one of God, but He came in a way that they did not expect. He was as great as they hoped for, but not in the way that they were expecting and so He went largely unnoticed.
All through the Bible there are accounts of people whom God chose to work and speak through. They are nearly always people that we would consider weak and unimportant. It seems that God likes to do this, no doubt to remind us that God doesn’t need human strength, greatness or ability. God works through whomever He will so long as we are open to it. One of the beautiful things about this is that it means God is accessible to all of us, from the simplest and least educated to the most brilliant minds. No one is excluded. It says in the first reading, ‘You Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel’ (Micah 5:1). This is an ongoing theme that we find everywhere in the Bible. The Lord uses the least of us, the ones we would never think of choosing.
The event of Christmas is also the beginning of a new kind of hope for humanity. Jesus would offer his own life for the sins of humanity, so that we could reach the happiness that God created us for. You could say that Christmas and Easter are really two halves of the same event. And the reason it is an event of great joy is not only because humanity is once and for all set free from the prospect of eternal death, but also because Jesus taught us what the meaning of our life is; why we are here. We are created out of love, to share in the happiness of God. That happiness hopefully begins in this life but will be fulfilled in the world to come. Our life here is a time of love and service. We are free to love or not love, to choose for God or not. God has given us that freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. But to know that our life has a purpose is all important. What keeps us going when we are struggling if we feel that our life has no meaning, no purpose? We need to know that we have a reason for being here, and we do. That is why Jesus is the Light of the world. Light shows up what is there in the dark. With light you can see where you are going. Jesus who is this light is the one who helps us to see why we are here.
The preparations for Christmas all around us are wonderful and magical. I think that especially in this part of the world where it is so dark and dreary at this time of the year, it is beautiful to suddenly have our town and homes lit up with coloured lights, candles and decorations. All of this is to celebrate the coming of the Saviour and the event that set us free. Even though many people will celebrate Christmas without knowing what they are celebrating, yet in a strange way God is still glorified in all of this. Our society will celebrate the coming of Christ even though many will no longer realise that that is what they are celebrating.
There is a line in one of the Psalms which says, ‘Man’s anger will serve to praise you’ (Psalm 76:10). It seems like an unusual thing to say. How could man’s anger be a source of praise to God? Perhaps what it means is that ultimately all of God’s creation gives praise to God just by the fact that it is there. All the celebrations of Christmas give praise to God, even if many people aren’t even aware of what they are really celebrating. It is a reminder to us that God brings good out of everything, even when it is done for the wrong reason.
So as we celebrate Christmas maybe we can take a moment at some stage to give praise to God in our own way, for all that God has done for us; giving us hope, light, purpose and the promise of eternal happiness should we choose it.