CHRISTMAS - BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT
What a year it’s been! This time last year, I don’t think any of us could have predicted that 2020 would turn out to be the one of lockdown, uncertainty, fear, isolation and separation from those we love.
As I write a week into November, I have no idea what Christmas this year will be like. Our churches are planning for socially distanced carol and crib services (please see elsewhere in the magazine for details of these), but we don’t know yet whether we will be able to hold them.
At Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. In the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, he is referred to (using words found in the book of the prophet Isaiah) as “Emmanuel”. The meaning of this title is “God with us.” And the heart of the Christian story of Christmas is just that –God is with us.
God is with us whatever may befall. God is with us through good times and bad times, through times of security and times of uncertainty, through times of joy and of sadness. It may not always feel like it to us but that doesn’t mean it’s not the case. We know the sun exists even when it is hidden by clouds.
Mary and Joseph knew what it was to have an unknown future and to live in a time of uncertainty. The political situation in first century Palestine was one of tension. People were divided. Power was held in the hands of a few. Resources were tight for many. Even religion seemed to have become exclusive rather than for everyone. Sounds familiar?
How different God’s way was from that of human beings! Emmanuel – God with us – didn’t come just for the powerful and certain, the rich and the religious, but for everyone. And God doesn’t run out on us when things get tough but carries us in loving arms and stays with us in every circumstance. We just have to grab that outstretched hand.
God offers hope, but also comfort for the tough times. The Christ-child smiles when we do, but also weeps when we weep.
A poem by Wendy Cope reflects on this eloquently:
A Christmas Song
Why is the baby crying
On this, his special day,
When we have brought him lovely gifts
And laid them on the hay?
He’s crying for the people
Who greet this day with dread
Because somebody dear to them
Is far away or dead,
For all the men and women
Whose love affairs went wrong,
Who try their best at merriment
When Christmas comes along,
For separated parents
Whose turn it is to grieve
While children hang their stockings up
Elsewhere on Christmas Eve,
For everyone whose burden
Carried through the year,
Is heavier at Christmastime,
The season of good cheer.
That’s why the baby’s crying
There in the cattle stall:
He’s crying for those people.
He’s crying for them all.
There have been some fantastic and wonderful things this year – a new appreciation of nature, vast outpourings of care, volunteers in their thousands, creativity in homes and businesses, new relationships forged, the dedication of those who work in the NHS, care homes, hospices and so on. When we have eyes to see these joys, we realise that hope is still possible even in the darkest times.
None of us know what the future holds. I hope and pray that we will all experience some joy, while never forgetting that Emmanuel is with us for all the ups and the downs of life.
A peaceful and blessed Advent and a happy Christmas to you all