I like Christmas. There is something about the whole idea of Christmas that gets me going. At the heart of Christmas there is the most beautiful thing in the world, a child. A child, any child, brings great joy to the whole family that surrounds it; parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents and uncles and aunts, everyone loves a baby.
What would life be if we had no hope? Where would we turn to if there was no God?
The real reason we love Christmas is that Christmas, and the baby whose birth we celebrate, signify the hope of the world; a world without hope is a world of death.
Most of us can’t see the hope. We don’t really need it because for a large part of our lives things proceed according to plan, but yet, somewhere deep down inside we all know that hope of a more permanent kind is required.
The majority of people, ordinary people going about doing their business, looking after their families and paying their bills, go through their year in a hum drum fashion. Then we come to Christmas and something new kicks in. We want to buy presents, not because of all the ads and the razzamatazz but because we want to show those around us that we love them. We want our children to be happy, we want to see their eyes full of delight and instinctively we all wish to tap in to the hope that this child brings.
I googled Jesus Christ and in 0.22 seconds 119,000,000 results came up for him. Jesus was a long way ahead of the rest of the field.
Mohammad came second with 56 million, Buddha 36 million and Moses taking last place with a humble 19.7 million. All these were given extra time, (0.25 seconds) because a wider search was necessary.
In essence, what we are saying is that all time before his birth leads up to him and all time from his birth takes its meaning from him. Jesus is that important.
In modern years the secularist society has tried to do away with this measure of time. We now have the BCE (before common era) and CE (common era). As I write this I see on my computer that ‘common era’ should be given capital letters. No way, Hosea; they get the small letters they deserve!
Jesus has been controversial from the beginning: the Wise Men came to adore him, while Herod wanted to kill this new born baby. When he raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees still would not believe in him. Instead, having seen this great miracle, they decided that they had to kill him and ‘Lazarus as well.’
Jesus divides. He divides the world, he divides people and most importantly he divides us inside our own heart. He stands like a towering figure in the midst of history, calling every person on earth to answer his persistent question, the one he asked Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” or more aptly, ‘who am I in your life?’
The commercialism of Christmas is our attempt to block out these questions. We run from here to there, never stopping to ask ourselves what is really going on here. If we did we would have to give some sort of answer so we pretend that the question does not even exist.
We dare not pause to listen to the question this little baby asks of us.
Every child asks a question: are we going to look after it, are we going to care for this newborn addition to our family?
The modern age says ‘no, we do not want children. They interfere with our careers and our holidays.’ In many quarters, pregnancy is now seen as a disease.
But the birth of a child overrides all this. The new arrival brings untold joy to the world; aunts and grannies appear out of nowhere, bearing gifts and eager to see whose ‘nose’ the new arrival has brought with it! Rooms are painted, new cots put in place, all because the ‘wee one’ is coming home from hospital.
Jesus is the child who answers the question, just as he is the child who asks the question. He stands in the middle of time, Before Christ and After Christ, and his very presence asks us, “What does the God-child mean to you?”
The coming of a child into a home always demands a response from its parents. The response of most parents is that they look after and care for the child as best they can. There is no handbook for parenting; parenting is a hit and miss affair where the love a parent has for the child wins through in the end.
It is the same with Jesus. We are never quite right in our relationship with him but somehow, if we try, the love that exists between him and us wins through eventually. Life, like parenting, is a hit and miss affair; sometimes we get it right, more often than not we stagger through.
Long before Jesus was born, way back at the time they were writing the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, the person writing the book knew that humanity needed a saviour. Fifteen hundred years before the birth of this baby they were looking out for him, hoping that the long awaited Messiah would come soon.
What a personality Jesus must have had. He called Peter to leave his boat and Peter got up and left everything. Matthew, the tax collector, was sitting at his desk collecting taxes when Jesus called on him to leave everything and follow him. What sort of personality can demand this of people?
That’s the problem with love, it demands a response. If Jesus is anything, he is the love of God in human form. But love demands an answer. When someone says ‘I love you,’ the reply that you give may affect all of the rest of your life. If you say no to the person, the relationship may end. If you say yes it could be the beginning of a lifelong committed relationship.
No matter what way you look at it, love demands a response.
The love of God, shown in human form in Jesus, demands an answer from us.
Most of us run away from the question and hide by buying gifts and partying. But the question haunts us. There is nowhere we can run to get away from it. In extreme cases we try drink and drugs or a host of other addictions, but no matter where we go the child who was born two thousand years ago, still demands a response.
The majority of people live ordinary humdrum lives and think that they and their life is not that important. For most of his life Jesus worked as a carpenter; he was an anonymous joiner in a hidden corner of the Roman Empire.
There is something else extraordinary about Jesus and I feel it has to be said; any article on Christmas would not be complete without it.
Let us look again at the people we googled on the internet.
Moses said, “Here is the Law that will lead you to God.” The Buddha said, “Here is the path to enlightenment,” and Mohammad said, “Live this way and you shall attain heaven.”
In fairness none of them made any great claims about themselves. They all saw themselves simply as prophets and messengers.
Jesus was a different kettle of fish; he knew exactly who he was and what demands he could make of us.
“Follow me and I shall give you rest,” “to have seen me is to see the Father,” and “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Jesus calls us to answer to who he is, not what he teaches. He claims to be God and he makes no bones about. The constant question of Christmas, and the question the world hates, is, “Who is Jesus?”
For two thousand years mankind has ran away from this question in as many ways as possible. Now we do it with bright lights, cards and presents. But the question remains.
Jesus himself knew this. He even told us that the world would hate Christians because it hated him first.
Take our great atheist friends such as Richard Dawkins. How many of them attack Moses or the Buddha or Mohammad? They don’t need to, these men point the way to God in their own way but none of them ever claimed to be God.
The difference between Jesus and Moses is the same as the difference between God and mankind. Instinctively, in the same way as we run from the question and hide in presents, we run from God.
But we should not worry about it. Our God is a great God. He is also patient and kind and he walks with us as we grow out of the exuberance of youth and the foolishness of commercialism and he is with us when we grow older and come to understand that all these things are empty promises.
Every Christmas, the same question comes around, who is this child and what does he mean to me?
The question cannot be avoided forever, it is too persistent and its source is not outside of us. We can never outrun it.
But who can say no to a child? Who can say no to seven and a half pounds of pure love?
In order to say no consistently, we have to harden our hearts, make our attitudes and our love become like stone. And every year the lights on the tree and the music of the children will more and more burn into our soul as we reject the call of love.
This year I think I’ll try and respond to the call of love. Maybe at 59, I’ll listen to what Jesus is saying and think about what he is asking of me.
And what he is asking is not that difficult: be good to the wife, love her and cherish her, look after my children, love them and cherish them: play my part in society and think of my neighbour.
Not that difficult really, is it.
And anyway, who could say no to a beautiful child in a manger, with a light that still shines after two thousand years.
Yes, my friends, our God is a great God, whether he comes as a child, or a carpenter, on a cross or on the Altar, and the question he asks of us never goes away.
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