For many of us, I suspect, it gets harder each year to capture the mood of Christmas. About the only thing that still warms us are memories: memories of younger, more naïve days when lights and carols, Christmas trees and gifts still excited us. But we are adult now and so too, it seems, is our world. Any joy of anticipation of Christmas is blunted by many things, not least by the commercialism that, like almost everything else in life, is characterised by excess. By late October we are affronted by Christmas decorations, Santa Claus is around for all of November and most of December, and we are force-fed a series of Christmas parties which exhaust us long before December 25.
So how can we crank up any real joy and genuine celebration? It’s not easy, and excessive commercialism is only a minor obstacle. More serious are the times we live in. Can we, amid all the many cruelties of this year, warm up to a season of tinsel and festivity?
Can we continue to romanticise the pilgrimage of two people 2,000 years ago amid the flight of the millions of refugees who are journeying with no place to go? Does it mean anything to speak of peace after various elections this year polarised our nations and left millions unable to speak civilly to their neighbours? Are there any silent nights left?
Moreover, there are our own personal tragedies: the death of loved ones, lost marriages, lost families, lost health, lost jobs, lost time, tiredness and frustration. How do we celebrate the birth of a redeemer in a world which looks shockingly unredeemed and with hearts that mostly feel heavy and unredeemed?
The Christmas story is not easily made credible. Who can still believe that God came down from heaven, took on human flesh, ultimately conquered all suffering and altered the entire course of human history?
This isn’t easy to believe amid all the evidence that seems to contradict it, but its credibility is contingent upon it being properly understood. The redemptive power of Christmas is not a magical event, a Cinderella story without midnight. Indeed, its centre speaks of humiliation, of pain and of forced fleeing which is not unlike that being experienced by all the victims of injustice on our planet. It mirrors too the pain that is experienced within our own wounded and tired hearts.
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