The Christmas story is loved and respected by people of all faiths and none on every continent and it’s not hard to see why. The story is a dramatic and compelling one comprising, an ardous journey through a small occupied country; a difficult birth in a makeshift maternity ward; skies filled with the songs of angels summoning a lowly band of hill farmers to make their way to a side-street Bethlehem guest house; an alignment of planets that induced a group of astrologers to travel hundreds of miles to do as the hill farmers had done earlier and that was to fall on their knees and worship the child in the manger.
This story undoubtedly says something is happening that is powerful enough to break through cultural barriers and transcend religious frontiers. Peasant Palestinean farmers and exotic Oriental gurus finding they are in fact looking for the same thing and recognising each other instead of fearing each other.
Clearly, there is something about this story that year in, year out succeeds, as little else can, to draw virtual strangers closer suggesting that what people really want is not endless cycles of miserable scoring off each other, but to stand together in shared astonishment and gratitude recognising that we’re held together by something outside the usual repertoire of human events.
One hundred years ago this Christmas, soldiers and officers conditioned to hate, loathe and kill on the Western Front astonishingly chose to turn from their guns and extend the hand of peace and goodwill to the ‘other side.’ The perennial Celebration of Love succeeded, allbeit for too brief a period, to bring mortal enemies together. That meeting of enemies as friends across two firing lines during Christmas 1914 however started to dismantle walls of heart and mind and stamped onto the pages of human history a shining example of ordinary men’s attempt to bring some order out of so much chaos.
The tale is told of a mother putting away the nativity set after Christmas when she noticed the baby Jesus was missing. She asked her four-year old if he knew where Jesus was. He replied, ‘Yes, but He doesn’t want me to tell anybody.’ ‘Why not?’ she asked. ‘Because He doesn’t want to be put away with the decorations.’
None of us should ever put Him away. He’s the only person whose birth was contrary to the laws of life and whose death was contrary to the laws of death. He wrote no books, established no headquarters or built any churches. Yet, 2000 years later, He’s the pivot around which the ages revolve and the only redeemer of fallen mankind.
Despite the bizarre fancy dress we now wrap around Jesu’s birthday, the Christmas story, wherever its told, still makes people think twice about giving up on people’s capacity for goodness and faith leading us to believe no one is so trapped into a starless midnight of bitterness and resentment that the bright daybreak of hope cannot somehow break through. ‘Wise men still seek His face as they did in days of old to give the Lord their hearts, more precious than silver and gold.’ (Julie Carro).
Happy Christmas. Rev Dr David Latimer