A certain couple decided to have a party just before Christmas to celebrate the 80th birthday of the husband’s father. It was a great celebration and went on much later than expected. So the wife said:‘Let us leave everything and go to bed. Tomorrow we can sleep late and then we’ll clean up’. She struggled out of bed at 10 o’clock with everyone else still asleep. She had more or less just cleaned one room when the front doorbell sounded. The last thing she wanted was visitors with so much cleaning still to be done. When she opened the door there facing her was a family of five – a couple she had not seen for years and their 3 children plus a dog. ‘We were just passing by and decided to call in’. There was nothing else to do but to welcome them. Luckily she had just cleaned one room and put them inside. She gave them cups of tea and biscuits and then more tea and biscuits. They shared with each other how life had been since they last met. Eventually the visitors decided to leave saying their good-byes. Their last remark was: ‘Isn’t it great you have nothing else to do but to make cups of tea and entertain visitors’. As we can imagine she could have gladly strangled them but simply smiled.
For her these people could not have come at a worse time. They were totally unexpected and she was equally totally unprepared. If they had only phoned or written ahead of time she could have given them a much better welcome, even preparing a special meal. She was caught completely unawares.
Wasn’t it like that the first Christmas? When Jesus entered our world, he came totally unexpected at that moment. The people were unprepared for his coming then. They were caught completely unawares. If he had only let them know ahead of time, they could have prepared a palace fit for a king. He certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to be born in a stable with a manger to lie in. This would have been unthinkable. But maybe it was just as well they didn’t know. How does one prepare for God? What welcome, what dwelling place would be worthy of him?
But that is what happened and in fact what still happens. Christmas is everyday, everyplace, everyone. Can we have the eyes of a child; the eyes of wonder, open to what is going on at any given time. So where is Christmas happening for us these times? Where is God coming into our lives?
Yet the mission of Christmas is very clear. Jesus came among a people dominated by the greatest political power of the time. He came and was accepted by the poor and marginalised, people like the shepherds. Jesus tells us that solidarity with the poor and the unimportant of this world is what will give us real happiness and peace. It doesn’t mean we are called to imitate them but it is often they who understand God who emptied him of power and majesty to ‘pitch his tent’ among us.
Are we not all poor in so many ways? Poor in reaching out to others we don’t like, sometimes unforgiving towards those who have hurt us. Bitter maybe because we haven’t been given the importance we thought we were entitled to by others. Sad because we would like to have more money. These are the areas in our lives where Jesus wishes to be born in us. The great Good News is that he loves us most where we love ourselves least. He is not ashamed to dwell in these parts of our lives. But we need to be aware of this and invite him in. He seems most at ease with weakness, dependence and vulnerability, all of which we usually wish to flee from. Yet here is the space he wishes to occupy.
Christmas is especially a call to all of us to hope. This is not an easy virtue to have at these times. We are witnessing the terrible murdering and pillaging in the Central African Republic, in Syria, persecution of Christians in Egypt and other countries, the ongoing persecution of Palestinian people in the the land of Christ’s birth…. On our TV screens we see the flood tide of refugees seeking some sort of place to stay in vast refugee camps. In the Philippines, people are struggling to cope with the death and destruction following Hurricane Haiyan…
Many of us are indeed touched by fear, by danger and death, afraid for the future. But it is not what the future holds which is important for us as Christians but who holds the future in the palms of his hands. Is it not our loving God and father? That is our security.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us. Christmas is a call to us to return to the source of our faith and trust in God. It is in the darkness that the light shows the way forward and if we believe Jesus is the Light of the world then he will lead us out of this darkness into his own wonderful light.
Yes, if we open our eyes we see the many signs of God’s care mediated through people who do not give up hope. We see all the aid workers in the refugee camps, the peace negotiators who spend so much of their time bringing warring parties together. Here is Jesus again among his people, the poor and needy.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to us in weakness, vulnerability and littleness. Come into all the areas of our lives where we need you most. Help us to be people of hope, for you are our Saviour. Amen”.