CHRISTMAS is a time of celebration. Families come together and share food and drink and enjoy being together.
It is the overflow of the one great event in history when the invisible God became visible. He became one of us and lived a life like ours, facing the same joys and hardships and even more: he faced the full force of sin even to the point of death by execution.
This year in Bethlehem, one nativity set (a crib) is a heap of rubble and when you look hard you see a baby child hidden in its midst of it. Simple and startling. The crib becomes a focus of all the pain human beings have brought on themselves. Gazing at it you see the failure of people to live together in peace.
You ask why? And the only answer is because they are afraid on one another. Each is a threat to the other: Palestinian to Jew, Ukrainian to Russian, one Sudanese force and another. Fear has driven people apart.
This is all out there: in the news faraway beyond our ability to do anything.
But there is a fear closer to hand: our personal fears. What am I afraid of? What are you afraid of? It can often be something in my story, something in my life that shaped me in a way that holds me back from being free. It can be something unfortunate in my family, something out of my control. There are things that mark us and prevent our freedom from flourishing.
The psalmist talks of a tree planted in the desert and one planted by the water side. One has no chance to flourish while the other can blossom.
But we are not trees and we can do something about our fears. And the whole point of Christmas is that God has come to free us. If we can face the truth, it will make us free.
This is the hope, the joy, of Christmas. We can do something about our situation – what ever it is. Despite all our limitations we can be happy. But this happiness only comes when we face the truth and do not turn away.
Jesus was the most free human being who ever lived. He was also the most fearless. Even as a child of twelve he could get up and address his elders. Later, as an adult, he spoke boldly to the synagogue leaders and the Pharisees. When eventually he was led before Pilate, the conversation was such that it was really Pilate who was on trial, not Jesus.
Freedom from fear is the biggest gift we can receive at Christmas. And it is offered to everyone; male or female, Jew or gentile – whatever our race or belief. This is what the little baby in the rubble promises.
Christmas 25 December 2023 Is 9:2-7 Tit 2:11-14 Lk 2:1-14