The Gift of Christmas
Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Emmanuel, God with us!
And uppp goes the Christmas tree, covering the house with lights just takes ages, and why does anyone want to be elbowed around TK Max on the Saturday before Christmas? All this preparation, all this running about, oh and the government like to get in on the act. Do you remember that bit in the story about Mary and Joseph having to register for tax. Two thousand years ago they had to register, there was no getting away with it, we have universal credit, pension top ups, get registered, wait for ages, get very little, and oh, by the way do have a great Christmas.
And at the end of it all, people are just so tired, so weary, so sick of never being listened too, of simply being done too, of being alone. And politics? Well, you just couldn’t escape that in the bible story, get rid of the Romans shouted the freedom fighters, and everything will be alright, get rid of the Torys, get rid of labour, get a new leader, sack the home secretary, do this, do that, and everything will be wonderful! Only it won’t, only it isn’t, no wonder folk prefer to post pictures of food on Instagram, or rant on Facebook, or threaten on twitter! Oh little town of Cotherstone, how still we see thee lie, really, is this Christmas? Is it really Emmanuel, God with us!
Then of course there is the religious stuff, I spotted a cartoon the other day in which two women stood gazing at a window filled with Christmas cards. In the middle are two with nativity scenes, one women turns to the other, “disgusting she says, they are bringing religion into everything these days”.
I mean why not just stick with Santa, only he is a Saint, kind of religious lol! Saint Nicholas, or as the Dutch say ‘Santa Claus’, European then, not from here then! I always thought so, never trust hairy men in red suits.
But the religious stuff, that hasn’t got a great name either, too many rules, we can’t do this, can’t do that, I’m Anglican, I’m Baptist, I’m Meth
odist, I’m Pentecostal, labels that wither under the gaze of that baby. Then you hear ‘They are all hypocrites, those folk who go to church’, meanwhile the people who aren’t religious, you know the ones that panic if they break a mirror, say touch wood every five minutes, use their lucky numbers for the lottery, and won’t walk under ladders, have a lucky sixpence in their purse, read their daily horoscope while saying it is all just fun really, those non-religious people, they like nothing better than to point at the hypocrites, while the hypocrites they point at the others, and everyone is pointing at each other and…… parp!
I wonder, I wonder if perhaps Christmas is different to that, I wonder if in all the rush, the pointing, the shouting, the pushing, the demanding, the blaming, I wonder if somehow, we have forgotten to pick up the gift that is actually Christmas. The Emmanuel, the God with us gift, a gift that is all about relationship. I wonder if we have forgotten to peel back the wrapping paper, forgotten to treasure the moment. I wonder if we even pause, just for a second, to wonder what God with us, love with us, joy with us, peace with us, really means and, if in that wondering the world can be changed.
Mary did, Mary that 15-year-old Jewish girl growing up as property under Roman occupation, she wondered, she treasured things in her hearts, and when she discovered she was pregnant she sung a song of joy and it went something like this:
‘God bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
While the callous rich were left out in the cold.
What a song! All this in the vulnerability of a poor, voiceless, baby!
All this in, Emmanuel, in God with us.
And this song has been set to a thousand tunes over the years, and as the tunes became more fancy so its radical content has been quietly shunted out the way, it was banned in the British Empire outside of Britain. For it spoke about what God with us means. It means relationships, and we live in an unequal world, a world where the rich penalise the poor for being poor, where the poor point to each other as at fault, where stories of inequality and injustice abound, and in this world what ‘God with us’ means, needs to be heard, needs to be lived, because it means relationship.
For when we rip away the wrapping paper we discover that ‘God with us’ is actually about justice for my sisters, hope for my brother, freedom and life. When we pause in our shopping and just listen we discover the ‘God with us’ is about being listened to, is about food for my hungry sister, the first being last and the last, that’s my brother again, being first. And when the last mince pie is just crumbs on the plate we find that ‘God with us’ is about the rich being shut out, and poor given the seat of honour at the banquet. For God with us means that you matter, that I matter, that we matter, and we matter because we are called to be brothers and sisters, for this is God with us, this is Christmas.
For it is the revolutionary power of the Christmas story that set the scene 2000 years ago for a transformation of the known world. Christians were referred to as the people ‘turning the world upside down’. They did this without suicide bombs, protest marches, or thousands of followers on twitter, they did it instead, by embracing the truth of Christmas, the ‘God with us’ kind of truth.
This truth is simple to understand, if God walks with ‘us’, then ‘us’ is you and me. ‘Us’ is the guy stealing from his Mum to buy drugs, ‘us’ is the nurse or perhaps care worker doing so much, for so little. ‘Us’ is the person waking in a drunken haze realising they have ruined everything again, us is the person behind the counter at the council offices being screamed at about dog mess. ‘Us’ is the difficult and unloved, the challenging and the charming, ‘us’ is the worker on strike for a living wage and the earl ripping off expenses ‘us’ is you and me. If we are prepared to pause, to walk in that truth the implications are huge.
These implications of ‘God with us’ are about me, being responsible for me, and me pouring myself out for others, my sisters, my brothers, about me seeing that the person at the till in Lidl is given just as much respect as the queen, and while it might start with respect, it ends with love. ‘For God so loved the world’ wrote Jesus’ disciple John, ‘that he gave his only son’, he was, he is, our gift, a gift that call us to shine our light even as he shone his, even if it leads to the cross, the gift of ‘God with us.’
O little town of Cotherstone How still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight
They are met in Cotherstone because you are Cotherstone, because we are Cotherstone, and because we are, God is. This is what ‘God with us’ really means, this is the Christ in us, the being sisters and brothers, the Jesus of history alive today in us, in relationship, this truly is what Christmas mean, so let’s live it like it matters! Amen