World Vision have recently launched their Twelve Blogs of Christmas project, during which their core group of bloggers will be reflecting on the spirit of Christmas, with other bloggers contributing through their own sites. Well, my entry is below, and a fine range of ethical Christmas gifts are available at World Vision’s catalogue…
“Isn’t it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for – I don’t know what exactly, but it’s something that you don’t mind so much not having at other times.” That’s a line from Kate L. Bosher; I have to admit I don’t know who that is, and thirty seconds googling didn’t help much either, but she’s right. For a season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, the days around December 25th always seem to be surrounded by a strange sense of melancholy; a melancholy dancing with hope and joy, maybe, but melancholy nonetheless. Or maybe it’s just me and my fondness for Christmas songs that don’t feel like Christmas songs – Fairytale of New York, of course, and the image I’m trying to convey was done far better in the video for It’s Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas.
There’s a streak of – sadness? darkness? – running through the Christmas story from the start. Teenage girl finds out she’s pregnant outside of wedlock, and despite it being extenuating circumstances, her husband-to-be is on the verge of divorcing her quietly until he undergoes a religious experience that makes him stick with her, thus potentially putting both their reputations in the toilet. The baby’s born in exactly the wrong place. They’re visited by shepherds, who at the time were considered to be liars and thieves and generally disreputable. Later on they get visited by a bunch of astrologers from another country, who screw everything up by alerting a mad bad king to the existence of a child who’s a political threat. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are forced to become asylum seekers in Egypt, while the king decides to get rid of the perceived threat by killing a town-full of innocent children. Lose the tea towels and the cardboard crowns and it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs.
At its heart, at least in the Christian sense of the festival, Christmas is all about God becoming man, showing the world what it’s like when God has physical hands and feet and a voice; Incarnation with a capital I, God entering into time and space and living life as a human being, and Bethlehem is where it starts. And those difficult parts of the Christmas story? The Incarnation gives them weight, because it puts God alongside us rather than sitting on a cloud waiting to dish out a smiting or two. Now, maybe you believe that. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. Maybe it’s all of those, depending on what day of the week it is. For my part, I do believe that what happened in Bethlehem echoes down the ages, still has something to say to us among the iPods and the protests.
The spirit behind the Christmas story – and Easter as well, because these two festivals are the bookends of a glorious story – is that a divine being becomes human, and gets caught up in all the hurt and dirt and suffering and joy and beauty of human existence – Immanuel, God with us, it’s in all the carols if you look for it. That’s why the story of the baby in the manger somehow resonates with the scuzzier lyrics of Fairytale. Sometimes life sucks, but sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes, especially at Christmas, it somehow manages to be both at once. It’s a hug of a season, even if you’re not sure if that hug is happy or sad. And that’s why I love Christmas, and hopefully always will.