by Helen Bent, Associate Vicar
I wonder what we think of first when someone mentions ‘Christmas’—trees, fairy lights, tinsel? Reindeer, elves, Santa? Cards, wrapping paper, presents? Turkey, cranberry sauce, mince pies? Do any of these first thoughts take us anywhere near the heart of its true meaning? If we are so taken up with the commercial or sentimental celebration of Christmas we are likely to miss both its wonder and its earthiness as well as its pain.
There is wonder and amazement, as hosts of angels fill the night sky with singing. An astonished group of shepherds rush off to Bethlehem full of excitement and curiosity to see if there really is a new baby in a manger somewhere. A new star heralds the arrival, and some mysterious strangers travel miles at great financial cost to bring expensive gifts to the newborn child, bowing down to him as they would to royalty.
At the same time, Jesus is born to a young, unmarried mother, who could by law have been stoned in the circumstances. Mary goes through the agony of childbirth in the filth of a stable far away from home. Here we are confronted with the frightening vulnerability and dependence of a new born baby, helpless and completely reliant on the care of others.
And like so many today, the family are soon fleeing for their lives from a power hungry despot, who is determined to annihilate any potential rivals for his crown. On the 28 December, commemoration of Holy Innocents takes us where we would rather not go — into the place of ultimate horror where the innocent suffer, children are cruelly maimed or killed and the perpetrators go unpunished. Around the world today, we see countless instances of families fleeing from war and persecution, left vulnerable to disease and wholly dependent on the kindness and generosity of others.
It’s so easy to see the nativity story as just that, a story, acted out by countless infants in cute nativity plays, but far away from reality. However, the life of Jesus is well documented by secular historians as well as the Bible. Jesus is for real. He came to earth in human form, Emmanuel, God with us, living among us and showing us what God is like.
Jesus still comes among us today – sometimes present in the sound of glorious singing and worship, at other times, creeping in beside us almost unnoticed. Are you ready for the wonder and excitement? Is your curiosity to discover more of the truth stirred? Will you journey with the wise men to honour Jesus, the King of kings? Come and see! Emmanuel is ready and waiting – God with us not only during this Christmas but always.