I saw some people walk into a shop the other day. A parent and his child. As they came face to face with a gleaming display unit, I heard a word spill from their mouths in unison. Only one expression was laced with wonder, the other laden with ennui. The word? “Christmas!”
The contrast of a jaded dad and an awestruck kid reminded me how easy it is to become overfamiliar with Christmas. I confess, my heart sinks just a little when I realise that Summer’s over and I’m about to be inundated with garish decorations, Slade and yet another Downton special! Each year I have to take a step back, and recapture the wonder by putting myself in the sandals of the first hearers of the Christmas message.
Take the shepherds. Historians have found five lists that Rabbis compiled of jobs that were considered dishonourable. ‘Shepherd’ appears on three of the five. They were deemed unclean, uncouth and untrustworthy. They were kept on the fringes of society.
But an angel appears to them of all people, and says that a king has come who will bring the peace for which they longed. They must have been gobsmacked.
Then the angel tells them they have to go and find this king. Well surely that meant going to the palace? And people like them, with their reputation, dress-sense and distinctive aroma, were hardly welcome in a palace!
But no. The angel says “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). The king is not in a palace, surrounded by guards and adoring fans. He’s not draped in high-end knitwear, being measured for his first crown. The shock of Christmas is that the king came to the ‘wrong place’ and the ‘wrong people’. He wasn’t found in a palace or a temple but wrapped in a hand-me-down cloth, sleeping in an animal trough in a peasant house.
All too often we can assume that God wouldn’t be interested in people like us. But when we’re tempted to think that way we put too much emphasis on who we are and not enough emphasis on who He is. God didn’t show himself first to those who were already religious or respectable. He came to smelly, socially awkward, wolf-wrestling blokes on the fringes of society. The question is not “am I too unloveable for Him?” but “is He loving enough for me?” And the answer to that is always “yes!”
However you prepare yourself for Christmas, and however you celebrate it, don’t get jaded, and don’t lose sight of the radical invitation. The king of heaven has stepped into our world, bringing “good news for all people.”
Our Carol Services will be taking place on Sunday 13 December at 15.00 and 18.30. With a festive selection of carols, performances and a short talk, these will be a great opportunity to explore and celebrate the Christmas message. Find out more.