As a younger man I tried so hard to redeem the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas and rescue it, as I saw it, from these pagan interlopers, however with maturing years I realise the reality is a bit more complex than what I once thought. Much of what I would have reckoned as a wholesome Christmas celebration came not from the pages of the Gospels but from the fertile imagination of one Charles Dickens who probably did more than any other single person to shape the popular concept of what a ‘traditional’ Christmas ought to be. Dickens wrote several books around the Christmas theme his most popular being the salutary tale of Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol‘. This little book is a joy to read and cheerfully announces the potential for redemptive change even for a curmudgeon like Scrooge who became so entangled with his assets and possessions that he lost sight of the power of love and fellow-feeling. And I suppose ,that redemptive parable skirts around the transforming power of Jesus Christ in a persons life when he is taken in as Lord and Saviour!
The problem with the Dickens' Christmas is that the figure of a Redeemer is an optional extra and that the power of change somehow resides within the human heart apart from any of the ’God’ stuff! Maybe that’s the problem with the whole shebang of Christmas, it’s full of stuff but not much bothered with the ‘God’ stuff !
So how do we try and keep this chameleon Season in some sort of positive meaningful perspective ? We should begin I think with the Bible, and go back to the original accounts of Jesus' birth in the Gospels ,and about now is a good time to begin to reflect anew on this most familiar of stories. I am fascinated at the new insights I glean from the few dozen verses in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels on repeated readings, and the series of peripheral events around the actual birth that are so rich in themselves and in assisting our understanding of this momentous event - the invisible Spirit God becoming like one of us in tangible human form ! No other Faith offers the depth and scope of the Incarnation, the Creator God of the Universe entering our sphere as a gurgling , smiling infant. Our familiarity with the story sometimes dilutes its impact and veils the relevance that such a manifestation of God can have for our lives.
As well as meditating on the Scriptural accounts of the Nativity I try and attend some communal expression of faith around this time, even a good old fashioned carol-service or better still to gather with a group for a Bible study. Handel’s Messiah is always an inspiration and even though originally penned with Easter in mind serves well in reminding us of the whole point of Christmas and the person behind it, who can hear those timeless words from this oratorio “For unto us a child is born…a son is given, And his name shall be called…Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God…the Everlasting Father…” without realising that after all this Christmas season really is all about the ‘God’ stuff and not the other stuff !!! Perhaps with old Scrooge ,we may yet discover the power of a really meaningful Christmas and the possibility that there exists within that hoary old festival a life-changing epiphany not wrought by Dickens' power of positive thinking tale, but based firmly on the real events that took place on that holiest of nights all those years ago. That Bethlehem Visitation reminds us we are loved by a God who lived amongst us as Jesus Christ and nailed his love to the cross to rescue us from our sins. Now that seems to me to be the perfect recipe for a really happy Christmas !