by Gary Heard
There are signs of the Christmas season all around us, as decorations begin to fill the public spaces, the sound of carols starts to fill the retail spaces, and families decorate their houses inside and out with lights and other ornaments. “Tis the season to be jolly” echoes as a refrain through almost every aspect of this season in popular culture. Unfortunately, the way in which Christmas is celebrated drives out some of the season’s more important messages. The images of happy families sharing their time and gifts happily and with generosity masks the deeper meaning of the season, and in a strange way, serves to exclude the very people for whom the Christmas message is most important.
When we consider the central aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus, we find a much deeper and more embracing story. It is a story of a pregnant unwed teenager; a fiancé who discovers that his betrothed is pregnant and wonders how to respond; an aged couple finally conceiving after years of heartache and unfulfilled hopes. In addition, we confront a government mandate to return to a familial hometown, forcing the young couple into a lengthy and uncomfortable journey in the late stages of pregnancy, only to be stranded without accommodation and offered measly lodgings which most would reject. And then, following the birth, the young family are forced to flee to another country – refugees in search of safety from threats against the life of their infant child.
It is these aspects of the story that many can associate with – far from the happy family experience, it underlines that the Christmas embrace turns its focus to the marginalised, the alienated, and those who are struggling with the realities of life. Rather than finding joy in the exchange of gifts which more likely end up on the scrap heap within a few days, this story reminds many that, in the midst of their struggles, hope is born. Not in any way as a denial of their realities, but in affirmation of them.
The Christmas story is not an affirmation of those who have, and those who can afford more–and yet, ironically, need it less–but the story of a God who enters lives at their deepest vulnerability and need. Christ is not born in triumph, but in the ordinariness of life – into lives of fractured relationships, lives of deferred (or destroyed) hopes, lives of alienation and isolation. It is a reality which echoes throughout Jesus’ life, as he reaches out and embraces those who are generally excluded from society’s ideas of success.
Seeing a homeless man sleeping under a Christmas tree in the city streets is perhaps one of the best signs of Christmas, inasmuch as he represents those for whom the Christmas story expresses hope and embrace, and reminds us of God’s priority for those for whom society does not make a ready place. It reminds me that I need to show love and hope for such as these – and not only at Christmas. The challenge remains for us to make our celebrations of Christmas inclusive of such as these. That one of Australia’s leading health funds reported increased admissions over Christmas so that people would not be alone on Christmas day underlines the need for us to find ways to embrace those in real need.
photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash
*** New for 2021!*** We are so pleased to announce this companion journal for our Advent Devotional Lean Towards The Light This Advent & Christmas! Last year’s devotional continues to be relevant to the pandemic times we are in; find refreshment with new eyes and opportunities for reflection as you pair your copy with the journal. Or perhaps your group or community is looking for an advent devotional this year? We offer savings on devotional bundles with the journal, and with the journal and our Advent prayer cards in both physical and downloadable forms. You can also order the Journal as a download. If you are ordering 5+ copies, we offer even more savings–Email us to get the code.