Y’know, it’d be quite easy to go off Christmas altogether!
If the adverts are anything to go by, this time of year is all about spending, spending and more spending. Whether we’re buying gifts or food, we’ve got to be buying more and more – incidentally, what’s with this ‘five bird roast’ thing? I mean, if five is where we’re going why not seven? Twelve? Fourteen? Let’s start off with an ostrich and work our way down to a wren maybe? Or we could ‘settle’ for a turkey!
Perhaps, if we buy that latest next generation games console (that’s just a tiny bit faster than last year’s!), or the latest bit of use-it-once-and-then-relegate-to-the-loft kitchen gadgetry, or that brand new 5.3G, 12 gazillion pixel camera and unlimited texts mobile phone, or those overpriced and under-flavoured chocolates, or that newest celebrity – and by celebrity I mean someone I’ve never heard of who is allegedly famous for something or other that I just couldn’t care less about – sickly smelling perfume we may experience a warm fuzzy feeling and ‘goodwill to all men.’
Somehow, Grinch-like as I am, I doubt it!
We’re approaching Christmas in a society that argues over whether the poor can cook, or if food banks encourage the proletariat to be lazy, rather than being outraged that people go hungry in a country that throws away 7 million tons of food and drink every year. We’re approaching Christmas in a country where multi-millionaire politicians appear to think the proliferation of low-paid jobs indicates a healthy economy, despite the fact that the growing gap between rich and poor seems to indicate we’re actually in a more divided society. We’re approaching Christmas in a world where stock values plummet when a certain supermarket’s profits are ‘unlikely to be more than £1.4 billion.’
Let’s just stop and think about that for a second … £1.4 billion PROFIT and stock values plummet – not £1.4 billion loss mind you, but £1.4 billion profit!!!! That’s insane! Some-one, somewhere (probably in the Stock Exchange) is having a laugh … at our collective expense! Apparently every little doesn’t help!
Bah humbug indeed!
But, this year I think I might just be able to give it another try …
You see, Christmas is a truly mind-boggling event. We’re so used to the story, with the cute little baby and the sweet nativity plays and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the television, that we don’t really stop to consider the wonder of the central tenet of the Christian festival part of Christmas … the story of the Incarnation.
Incarnation says, “It isn’t enough for me to sit remote from it all, dispensing commandments and laws from on high … no, I need to get some skin in the game. If I AM who I say I AM, I’d better be prepared to back it up, and show up!” Instead of us leaving us believing in a remote, removed, unapproachable and unsympathetic God, the incarnation says ‘Rules and regulations aren’t what this is all about … I’ve been saying that for years but you don’t seem to have got it yet … so, I’ll come in person, I’ll show up, and I’ll show you how to live it out, I’ll live amongst you, in the muck and mess and wonder of it all.”
If you or I were doing it, sending a rescuing saviour to free a people, to liberate a world, I think we’re more likely to try sending lightning bolts, rampaging beasts, John Wayne and the cavalry and helicopters blaring out “The Ride of the Valkyrie.” Schwarzenegger and Stallone et al would form the honour guard, the Avengers would soften up the opposition and then Jesus Himself would likely be nine feet six of solid muscle ready to beat seven shades of something or other out of anyone who even looked sideways at His chosen people … or maybe that’s just me…
Instead (and thankfully) the Incarnation tells us that God sends a baby.
When we want bombast and power, might and conquest; when we want loud, strong, grand-gesture leadership; when we want someone to come and right the wrongs and sweep us to a promised land on a wave of feel good triumphalism; when we want a god who is little more than a wish-fulfilling Santa Claus, rather than do that, God gives us … vulnerability, weakness, fragility.
In the Incarnation God shows us He won’t force us to follow, He won’t storm and rage until we obey, He won’t send fire and brimstone to make us fear Him. He won’t be so majestic as to create a chasm between Himself and us; instead, in the vulnerability of the infant Jesus He shows that He is willing to be weak, willing to be small, willing to show His desire to be part of our lives, to be cradled, to be held close, to be loved.
A baby also means hope; a literal embodiment of a new life that speaks of fresh starts, new chances, uncontainable possibilities and incalculable potential. The promise that this fragile hope, this vulnerable promise might one day grow – nurtured by those around it, by the people that believe in it – into a full grown thing, a real life that shows that things are different now, that all the dreams we had weren’t hollow, weren’t wasted and that hopes can become realities.
That’s the Incarnation too.
So, when I get sick of Slade and “Merry Christmas Everybody,” when I’m driven to distraction by politicians and economists, when I’ve sat through adverts that make me want to put my foot through the screen … I stop and think about Incarnation, and I find myself recalling how I felt cradling my own kids when they were newborn.
I remember hoping and praying that they’d grow strong and healthy, that they’d be full of joy, that they’d be safe and courageous and that their lives would be full of hope and love. I remember thinking that I’d better start trying to be a real life grown up, a good dad, someone who wanted to be better so that I could make it better for them.
For me I think that this is a big part of the Incarnation too … the fact that this new life inspires me to be better, to be more, to hope for things, to work for things, to try to nurture hope and foster love for all of this mucky, messed up, chaotic and wonderful life that we’re mixed up in.
So … not humbug then. Instead, this Christmas I choose Incarnation. I hope you will too.