A reflection by Ray Anglesea
What is Christmas? It may surprise you to learn that most of the images, customs and paraphernalia we associate with it are quite modern. Having been three times now to Euro Disney, Paris with my Newcastle Choir to sing at the November opening of the Disney Winter Wonderland Spectacular, Hollywood and Prince Albert have a lot to answer for! From its very origin, though, Christmas has always been a feast. We have a license to enjoy ourselves, even those like me who are signed up to the activities of Slimming World can enjoy a break from non-fattening foodstuffs. This feast is not merely an excuse to eat and drink too much, though “festive season” is often just a euphemism for exactly that. No, it is also the season for family gatherings, of peace among nations and good will among men. Why? What is it about Christmas that reminds us of our common humanity, that makes us feel benign towards even our least favourite relations?
A feast day is supposed to celebrate something, and this one is no exception. It is the feast of the Nativity. We all like to celebrate the birth in a family, however difficult the individual circumstances and however inhospitable society may be towards “unwanted” children, born or unborn. My family celebrated with joy during this summer the arrival of a new grandson. The birth of the Christ Child that took place some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem was and is, in this respect, like any other; a cause for celebration, for thanksgiving, for joy. Christmas has become the most universal of festivals, celebrated the world over by Christian and others alike, because it appeals to our humanity. It was that most humane of Saints, St. Francis, who is credited with the first crib. That scene – animals and men surrounding a mother and her baby – speaks to all mankind.
For Christians, of course, this was not a birth like any other. This was a moment when God came into the world: helpless, human and anonymous. “He came unto his own, and his own knew him not.” As we contemplate the sublime and beautiful mystery of the Incarnation, the evangelist sharply reminds us that this is also the beginning of a process of rejection, the via dolorosa that ends with a mystery equally sublime, but also terrible: the Crucifixion. The babe in arms will one day become the Man of Sorrows; the Madonna will become the Pieta.
In a world like ours racked with suffering, wars and overshadowed by wickedness, Christmas may seem too comfortable. How is it relevant to the nightmarish world in Iraq and Syria? God’s answer to such evil was to send His son, Jesus, to redeem us. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke differ on the events surrounding the Nativity, but, in both, divine messengers signal its cosmic significance. In Matthew, the angel tells Mary that her son “shall save his people from their sins.” In Luke, the angel tells the shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” Christmas means that we are no longer alone: God is among us. Now that really is worth celebrating.
Minister, St Andrew’s Dawson Street, Crook