Christmas Presence

For weeks now we have been bombarded with adverts on the TV and radio, in newspapers and on the internet, all seeking to persuade us of the must have Christmas present for our loved ones. Perhaps you have seen the one for the Mulberry handbags? A young couple are gathered round the fireside enjoying Christmas festivities. The young man hands his partner a box saying ‘I know we weren’t going to give presents’. She opens the present to find that he has bought her a beautiful red handbag. As she is cooing her thanks for such an amazing surprise there is a knock at the door. In troop shepherds and wise men. Each in turn declare their amazement at the beauty and splendor of the bag as a cameo nativity scene develops on the screen. In the final punchline the poor confused young man says “it’s only a bag!” at which point the background music stops and everyone else looks at him like he is out of his mind.

I don’t know the thought process that went into the advert, and whether it was meant to mock those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ at this season. Whatever the purpose the message is profoundly powerful because it clearly depicts how easily Christ is squeezed out of Christmas. A festival which was originally conceived to celebrate the Presence of Christ has been hijacked by Christmas presents. According to The Times in 2013 Britons received more than £2bn worth of unwanted Christmas presents!

As we sing carols, listen to readings and share Christmas Greetings let us not forget that the only Christmas Presence worth having is Christ himself. Yes he was born just over 2,000 years ago and laid in a manger, heralded by choirs of angels, and worshipped by shepherds and magi. But the true wonder of Christmas is that the baby whose birth we celebrate became a man whose death we revere. A Saviour who broke the chains of sin and death. A King who reigns in heaven and has sent us his Holy Spirit to bring His presence to us.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus have the privilege of his presence with us moment by moment of every day. My prayer is that His Christmas Presence will be with throughout the whole of the season, and unlike the unwanted Christmas presents, will remain with you forever.

This blog post featured in the December 2015 edition of Lifelines

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Peace on Earth

By now I expect that you will have seen the Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert. Whatever your views over the appropriateness of the subject matter, the short film movingly depicts a true story of 100 years ago.

The British soldiers departed to the First World War full of optimism that the war would be over by Christmas, yet when Christmas 1914 arrived they were entrenched in a stalemate battle situation. Far from home and without means of communicating with their families in England, they awoke on Christmas morning with only their fellow soldiers for companionship. As they huddled together in the cold and damp, music drifted over no man’s land as they heard German soldiers singing Christmas carols. Emboldened by the familiar tunes soldiers from both sides climbed out of their trenches and exchanged food, cigarettes and souvenirs as an unofficial truce broke out. Eye witness reports record that a game of football was shared with the German soldiers and no shots were fired on that day. In the midst of a horrific conflict – Peace! That peace was tragically short lived and the conflict resumed the following day, and every day thereafter, until November 1918 when the armistice marking the cessation of hostilities was finally signed.

‘Peace on Earth’ was the message proclaimed to the shepherds by the angels the very first Christmas as they announced the birth of Jesus. Yet this peace is very different to what is longed for in times of war. The root cause of every conflict whether it is wars between nations, disputes between neighbours or fights within families is that at heart we are all at war with God. Jesus said that whoever is not for him is against him. So, whether by choice or by default, all of us are by nature enemies of God. The real meaning of Christmas is only found in the message of Easter: that through Jesus’ death, a way is made for us to find peace with God as we receive his forgiveness.

I pray that this Christmas you will discover for yourself the everlasting peace that only God can bring. For it is only when we are reconciled with God that we can be fully reconciled with each other – that is real Peace on Earth!

This blog post featured in the December 2014 edition of Hook Focus