What Christmas means to me
Sacred and secular
I am the father of three small children. Christmas is probably the time of year about which they get most excited - well, at least the two older ones. So if I am honest about what Christmas means to me, I have to say that the first thought to come to my mind is of a family Christmas morning. I think of the children, too excited to get dressed, rushing about in their pyjamas, wide-eyed as they open presents. I then become nostalgic. When I was a boy we always used to leave out for Father Christmas a glass of port and brandy. When Father Christmas stopped coming to our house my father thought it was too good a tradition to abandon. In due course I came to join him toasting the arrival of Christmas after the midnight service - the first time of the year we can sing the last verse to 'O Come All Ye Faithful': "Yea, Lord we greet thee, born this happy morning". To me now, Christmas simply wouldn't be Christmas without a glass of port and brandy in the early hours of the morning. These are my first thoughts about Christmas.
As well as being a father of three small children I am also a theological student, training for public ordained ministry. As soon as I have admitted what my first thoughts about Christmas are, I become consumed with anguish and guilt: am I not supposed to have profound and holy thoughts about Christmas? Of course I do have. What is distinctive about the revelation of God that we as Christians proclaim is that God is not just God Almighty who made the heavens and the earth. He took the form of a humble servant and came and dwelt among us. And it didn't stop there. Having been put to death for our sake, he was raised from the dead and his liberating presence is freely available to all in suffering solidarity. When we look upon the Christ-child lying in a cattle trough, we are reminded of this fundamental truth about God: that he is with us now sharing our joys and our sorrows.
The sorrows of this world are very pressing. Perhaps the most urgent mission of the church is to reveal that God is already present alongside all who suffer. Wherever there is hatred and war, wherever there is injustice, wherever the resources of creation are used without integrity, in all these places God in Christ Jesus is right there in the centre of it all, suffering as much as it is possible to suffer. If God could possibly suffer any more for us, he would do so.
The magnitude of this revelation about God's nature is so overwhelming that it is easy to fail to see that there is another side of the story as well. I didn't just say that God shares our sorrows. He shares our joys as well as our sorrows. The liberating significance of this is that there is nothing unholy or un-profound about associating Christmas with children's presents or port and brandy. It is a most profound and revealing truth about the nature of God that Jesus is right with us, celebrating with us, as we celebrate the blessings which have been bestowed upon us. I have little doubt either that Jesus would enjoy the port and brandy.