Actually it comes from Charles Dickens, who by one of those strange coincidences that make history interesting, was born at a time in London when there were seven snow covered Christmases in a row. A ‘White Christmas’ is actually quite a rare thing in the British Isles, the actual chances of snow falling in London on a Christmas day are six times in a hundred years.
But still, we all dream of waking up on a Christmas morning to a covering of snow that will bring us good cheer and help us feel snug and warm in the house as we tuck into our annual feast. Mind you, we don’t want too much snow, that would be a mess; just enough to make us feel good.
Anyway, when I arrived at my destination I found out that the young boy who lives in the house and is about three years old and Santa mad, hadn’t seen the snow. I told him that Santa had sent the snow to cover the hills and remind all the young boys and girls that he is coming soon and that they had to be good.
He ran to the couch, jumped up and looked out the window, shouting to his mom at the same time. He was as excited as any lad could be. Sitting here on a Sunday evening, looking out into the darkness and looking at the flame in my wood burner, it is very easy to fall into the whole Christmas story: the joy, the presents, the commercialism and the anticipation.
Some people complain about the commercialism. I don’t. The world will always find a way to get people to part with their money, and let’s face it, if we were in business we would all be hoping for a massive ‘footfall’ over the next couple of weeks. There are many businesses which depend on this time of year to make their extra profits that keep them going through the lean times.
Then there are the people who moan about the falseness of the merriness of people and all the Happy Christmas stuff to people you would not speak to any other time of the year.
Again, I don’t: here’s why.
We live in a hard world. Between now and this time last year many of us will have had our problems and troubles and a year makes an awful difference in people’s lives. Think of how many bits of bad news we have heard over this past year, the killing of hostages, bombs in every corner of this troubled earth, people losing jobs and people getting sick.
If there is one line in the Bible which no one can argue with and which everyone knows to be true it is this one: “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself. Every day has enough trouble of its own.”
We have all had that telephone call that changed our lives in an instant, the death of a close relative or the news of terminal sickness; these things come to every family. So why moan when people want to celebrate something at the end of the year and they go a wee bit overboard. Are we going to become complete kill joys who allow people to have no joy and happiness and focus all the time on what is bad?
The supersensitive Christians bemoan the commercialising of Christmas. They complain that Jesus is taken out of the season and that his birth is used as an excuse to make money. All true. But so what.
I remember reading a story many years ago. It was in a book about some saint or explorer or something. I don’t quite remember what but the gist of the important bit of what I was reading stayed with me. It went something like this:
Two men were in a railway station in London in the 1860s and both were heading out to Africa. One was going to seek his fortune, hoping to find and exploit precious minerals and create a financial and industrial empire.
The other was a missionary, armed only with a Bible and his prayer book. He went in search of souls, hoping to bring a new message of hope to a continent that had been exploited for centuries for slaves and natural resources.
Both men were going to the same country, to endure the same hardships and work with the same people, but their motives were different. And here is something we must remember, neither motive was bad. Humanity needs commerce and advancement if we are to progress in this world. Sometimes we are too hasty to put bad motives on people just because they engage in business.
So back to today.
I enjoy Christmas. It is by far my favourite time of the year; I will do no Christmas shopping, no partying and definitely no drinking. I will spend most of the time in the house, although I may go out on St Stephen’s Day and do a bit of bird watching.
Christmas is on a Thursday this year and by Monday or Tuesday I shall be ready to get back to work. I don’t like to take too long off as it gets on my nerves.
To the people who want to party and spend a ball of money it may not sound that I am having much of a Christmas and yet for me I would want nothing to do with the way they celebrate it.
But it is their Christmas and they are entitled to be happy and joyful in any way they choose. If a man who does not believe in God gets a present from his wife for Christmas is he supposed to say that he won’t take it because he does not follow the teaching of Jesus?
No way. He is probably a good man trying his best to raise his family, provide for his wife and look after his affairs. Like the rest of us, he has probably had his problems through the year and needs a little cheer. And fair play to him.
Then there is all that false friendship that gets on people’s nerves; I love it. What is wrong with wishing someone a happy Christmas and smiling at them if you meet them in the street? I don’t know what is going on in that person’s life, they could be sick, in debt, divorced or just breaking up and someone smiling and saying hello might be just what they need to make their day.
Why do I love Christmas? Think of what it means for us, think of the honour that God paid us when he decided to come into this world.
Have you ever stopped and thought about what the world would be like if there was no Christmas, if there was no truth in the story that God came from heaven and became one of us? Have you ever thought of what this means for us as people?
No wonder it is the time of year when every person, Christian or not, feels a little bit happier. How could such an event take place without the world feeling joy: God is coming to visit his people!
In ancient literature there are many references that there was over the world at this time a feeling that something great was about to happen. It is recorded in several texts that from the east to the west people were waiting on something extraordinary to happen in the world although no one had any idea what it was.
The Jews, of course, had a fair idea. They knew that the Messiah was going to come to them and they even knew where he was going to be born. This air of expectation is born out by the stories of the three wise men coming from the east to visit the new born king of the Jews.
Jesus brings hope to the world and it is not only hope to those who believe, it is hope to everyone. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is the single most important event in history. We even measure our time by it, we have BC, Before Christ, and AD, Anno Domini, the year of the Lord.
The birth of God into the world demands a response from us. That response can be positive of it can be negative, but we must respond in some way. When we look at the world most of us would say that everyone has said ‘no,’ but I don’t think that is fair.
There are many good people in the world. A report last week said that there are more than 200,000 unpaid carers looking after relatives in Northern Ireland. That means that there is one in eight of our population doing unpaid work, hard, unremitting work, caring for people for nothing.
I don’t care how you look at that, but to me it means that there are 200,000 people in this wee province who are working out of love.
I bet a lot of these 200,000 people can’t get to church on a Sunday because they have more pressing things to do, like bath an elderly mother or do the shopping that they haven’t had time to do all week but can do today because the husband is home from work.
The German priest Fr. Karl Rahner spoke of the ‘silent Christians,’ the people who just went around doing what had to be done and made no fuss about it. Isn’t it great that in Northern Ireland we have 200,000 of them, people who make no fuss, get no recognition and who do their hard work for no reward, except that of loving someone.
Why do nonbelievers celebrate Christmas? They celebrate Christmas because “deep down inside every man, woman and child is a fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there.” (William Wilson 1939)
This is the reason why everyone celebrates Christmas. Deep down inside each of us, we are in touch with God. Many of us may not like this but he made us and it is in our spiritual DNA, engrained in us like breathing, that when God is near we know it.
And so it is with Christmas. Christmas is the time of year when all of creation remembers that Jesus chose to become man all those years ago in Palestine. It does not matter when or how God came into this world: with an event like that all of time and history will celebrate it: even the Stars knew something wonderful was going on.
When the world has a party at Christmas it does so because this is the memory, deep in our hearts, of the greatest event in history.
As to those who don’t believe, welcome them in your heart to the Birthday Party of the Lord. There are probably many of those ‘silent Christians’ among them whose lives would put us to shame.
What a wonderful God our God is, taking the time to leave heaven and come down here to visit his people. Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, summed it up best of all: “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, he has visited his people and redeemed them.”
Any God who will do this for us is not going to object if a few non-believers come to the party!
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the editor but are the views of the writer.
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