The Meaning of Christmas
I wonder what your Christmas has been like for you so far? Have you managed to buy the gifts you wanted for people? Have you managed to post all the greetings cards? Have you got the food in for Christmas day? Have your family and friends arranged to come and see you and you see them? Whatever you have planned and arranged, Christmas day is nearly upon us and as with every Christmas we have had some weather to cope with. This year it is storms as we experience the impact of storm Barbara and it has disrupted travel and in some areas the electricity supply. We will not it appears be having a white Christmas in the Midlands this year, although I am sure if there is even a slight chance Coalville will know about it first.
A white Christmas of course is something that many people dream about. The gardens, the fields and the trees covered in the whiteness of snow and frost, bring a look of purity to the landscape. I often want to be the first to tread in the crisp snow leaving my footprints, to be the first to have trodden there, but of course those footprints ruin the look of the snow on the field or garden. To all good things there is an opposite, the snow may look good, but like storms and rain, it brings havoc to our roads and rail systems and the pure whiteness of the snow turns to that muddy slushy mess with ice underneath. The snow doesn’t stay as the pure picturesque whiteness, it becomes trodden and dirty. Our world as we know only too well is filled with great goodness and human kindness which is sullied by human evil, the clean can soon become the muddy and the dirty.
But Christmas is for celebrating, for giving and receiving gifts, to enjoy all the benefits of our preparation, to wish goodwill to all people, despite the weather and the events in our world. I wonder then, why we are drawn here, late in the evening, when we could be relaxing in the warmth of our home or the celebration of a party. Could it be something about the story we had read to us from the Gospel of Luke, could it be something else we need to connect with, could it be something that is mysterious, that is spiritual, that is wonderful and is pure and full of goodness and is full of truth? Could it be something that is bringing good news of great joy that we don’t fully understand, but is totally free and might make a difference to our Christmas day?
We can read this story of Jesus birth (Luke 2:1-20) with our human eyes and see it as a quaint story from two thousand years ago of a young insignificant couple engaged to be married and struggling with the fact that she is pregnant and disgraced because her fiancée isn’t the Father and no one wants them in their home and so he takes her 80 miles to Bethlehem, to be registered in the census, where she gives birth with only Joseph there in a dirty place housing animals, where she wraps the baby after giving birth in some strips of cloth and places it in a feeding trough, a manger.
This couple have had a bad start in life and it’s probably going to get worse for them and it’s a little bit sad and sordid. We can read this story with our human eyes and see the shepherds desperate to be accepted in society coming up with a story of heavenly beings in order to become accepted and listened to because no-one wants to know them either. We can read this as a story that our children should perhaps know about because it’s part of our heritage but it doesn’t really impact our lives. We can read this story with our human eyes and see the muddiness, the slushiness and the humanity and dismiss any relevance it has to our life at all.
But perhaps we are drawn here by God himself, someone full of wonder, of mystery and of love and purity, like the fresh snow without any footprints, and this story becomes very different through his eyes.
Through God’s eyes he sees the people he loves not knowing him, the ones he created to love him not being able to touch and experience pure goodness in their lives. He sees the evil and hurt in the world perpetrated by the few seeking power and control over others. He sees the people he loves needing rescuing and saving from themselves.
So he comes and lives with them, not as a powerful almighty person to tell people what to do and how to live, but as a pure baby, born of a virgin mother, created by God’s Holy Spirit, full of goodness and grace like the fresh snow, born in vulnerability into a world which is impure, so that that world can connect with all that is good and pure, so that it can connect with something that is beyond its understanding or comprehension, the wonderful, the mystical, the spiritual, the lovely full of love. He comes to live amongst the people he loves not in a nice comfortable palace, but where the dirt and the loneliness and the cynical and the abusive are at its height to bring love and wonder and purity. He sends his messengers, angels, to those who are outcast and abused, whose lives are full of hardship and impurity and tells them that there is a sign for them that God loves them, that they will find this sign in a manger and they can touch the pure and the wonderful, rather than know the hardship and oppression. The angel says ‘I bring you good news of great joy’ so that the impure can experience the pure, humanity can experience God. The muddy and soiled snow encounters the pure snow. No wonder Mary exclaims when she is filled with God’s Holy Spirit and becomes pregnant with Jesus Christ ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’. She doesn’t feel the muddiness and slushiness of her life, she only feels the love and purity of God in her life and he has saved her. To see this story through God’s eyes requires faith and trust before we can experience the good and the pure and the love of God.
Of course where is God now? Where is Jesus Christ?
Two thousand years ago people could hear Jesus speak, they could see him perform miracles, they could see the wonder and the mystery of God in front of them, they could touch him and experience his love, but we can’t do that now.
How do we touch the pure and the good, the wonderful and the mystery, how do we experience God’s love. Well the purity of Christ took on the impurity and evil of humanity and died with that impurity and evil on a cross so that we could be born to a new life and touch the pure and experience God’s love and be filled with Christ himself through his living Holy Spirit here with us now waiting to fill our hearts with his love. This is why we come on Christmas Eve to experience the wonder and the mystery of seeing ourselves and other people through God’s eyes, to touch the pure and the lovely, the wonder and the spiritual and to live Christmas day knowing that God see us in a very different way, as fresh snow, rather than muddy snow, as pure, rather than impure and he wants us to experience him through his Holy Spirit and touch something that is beyond our comprehension and outside of our understanding.
That’s why we are here and that’s why we come to communion to connect with Christ and in faith to see the world and ourselves through God’s eyes and recognise what he did for us on Christmas day two thousand years ago and what he wants to do for us today through his Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God is not down to how good we try to be, because we can never be good enough, it’s about believing in Christ as God’s son and turning to him like the shepherds did and experiencing the grace of God, something that is unearned and undeserved and is full of love. No wonder the angels exclaimed Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those whom he favours, those who come to him in faith. It’s an exciting day and it’s an exciting time where we know that the purity of Christ covers our impurities and we can ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s love this Christmas day and in turn we can return that love asking for forgiveness and knowing his Holy Spirit in our hearts. This is what makes Christmas a happy day and may more of our world take notice of this good news from God himself and seek his face and know his peace.