I am sure that many of you will shortly be writing Christmas cards to various friends and family members. Despite the proliferation of social media and other electronic forms of communication these are not as tangible ways of sending seasonal greetings as physical Christmas cards. The tradition in our home is to staple strings of cards together and then hang them on the walls of our lounge and dining room.
I wonder what kind of cards you like to choose: modern or traditional, comic scenes or wintry landscapes? Many cards seem to bear little real connection with Christmas at all. Politicians and celebrities send photographs of their families, others wishing to avoid causing offence choose the greeting “Happy Winter Holiday” or similar. My personal preference is to send cards that depict some aspect of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Yet even here myth and reality often collide as, in attempting to recreate the perfect Christmas scene, artists get their chronology mixed up. Perhaps worse still, the nativity is depicted in an idealised and somewhat romantic manner. The truth is that the birth of Christ was noisy and messy, the same as the birth of any other human being. The stable where he was born was a working stable, full of the sounds and smells of the farmyard, hardly a hygienic place for a baby to be born! A modern Christmas Carol more accurately captures the atmosphere with line: “From the squalor of a borrowed stable.”
Yet this realisation, far from demeaning the nativity, actually provokes even greater wonder. Paul wrote “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men”. The squalid circumstances of Jesus’ birth serve to highlight lengths to which he was willing to go to rescue us. Paul goes on to state “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So we move from a squalid scene to one that to our eyes seems gruesome.
If we sanitise either of these two events then we rob them of their power. Ugly though they may be, the truth is that they are both perfect scenes because they are essential to God’s great plan for redemption. Whenever you see a depiction of the nativity scene this Christmas I would urge you to look deeper and discover the joy that comes from discovering the real Jesus that so often gets obscured by fluffy lambs and cute donkeys. You are invited to come and join us at one of the Christmas services arranged by the various churches in Hook and discover the real meaning of Jesus birth.
This blog post featured in the December 2013 edition of Hook Focus