It’s what I’m thinking about as December drifts in. Everyone’s getting ready now for the big day, aren’t they? Presents and food and outfits and parties…
Amid the excitement, I’m feeling a little subdued if I’m honest. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas, but there is a little part of me that’s sad to see another Christmas go by without a baby. It’s one of those times of year when you feel your lack more, which is strange as it’s theoretically a time of plenty and extravagance – of joy.
The adverts don’t help. You’d think they were selling family bliss – perfect children and charmed marriages and generational bonds. But it turns out you can’t find those things in the best of Christmas turkeys, or in a new dining table, or in that TV or phone or dress. It doesn’t work. The other untruth that these kinds of adverts propagate is that if you don’t have a perfect happy family, you’re the odd one out. Actually there are a lot of people who will be celebrating Christmas this year who would like to have a partner, but don’t, who would like to have children, but don’t, who would like to get on better with their families, but don’t, who wish they had a job, but don’t. For those with unfulfilled wishes (perhaps that is all of us?), Christmas can be a depressing time of year.
That’s until we get our heads around the fact that actually, whatever the adverts say, Christmas isn’t about having everything you want, or being perfect. It’s not meant to bring tidings of great failure, to point out to us the ways we feel we have lost out in life or the things we don’t have that we thought we would. That really isn’t the point. We can certainly be forgiven for thinking that, when we take into account the commercial wonderlands filling our screens and shop windows, but it simply isn’t an authentic interpretation of the Christian story.
Christmas is a joyful time because it reminds us that God’s goodness is available to all: rich and poor, young and old, alone or in a family. In the story, a good God becomes part of a messy world. He sends a human baby to help us to see his love: the baby, after He’s grown up, is described as ‘the radiance of the Father’. There is goodness in the world! And that goodness can be found even in the saddest of places – where a family cowers in an outbuilding because no one would give them room inside, for example. We can experience God’s generous love in both good and bad times, which is why Jesus once said ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’. We can see a little of what He is like, and reflect it, in the material and natural aspects to this time of year: the gift giving, the lights, the sharing of food – but the real joy comes from having a deep awareness that He is good, that He loves us, and that He will not abandon the world to darkness.