Well, I’m knackered! I’ve successfully got my way through 1 Christmas service, which means I have just 13 more to go before I sit down, with my family and eat too much on Christmas day. But then we’re probably all busy rushing about and desperately trying to get ready and keep up.
What does Christmas mean to you? What words does it bring to mind? Parties, pantomimes, nativity plays, trees, lights, holly, mistletoe? Or maybe presents, cards, Santa, snow? Puddings, mince pies, turkey or the dreaded brussel sprout? It’s quite a common Christian comment, and sermon idea, that this is not what Christmas is about (I’ve used it myself, and no doubt will again!). In fact, many Christians live in places where all these trimmings aren’t around, and they still celebrate Christmas, often with more joy and enthusiasm than we do. These secular distractions can easily get in the way of us celebrating Christmas. They can blind us to the true reason for the season. BUT what far fewer people seem to notice is how many religious, or Christian, or, even, biblical things can get in the way too!
Most of us think we know the Christmas story, even though the truth is most of us have got a lot of it wrong (The video below shows this brilliantly!)
But, actually, even if we get this right, and get all our facts biblically accurate, I think we can still be blinded to the real meaning.
My favourite telling of the Christmas story, the one that I always go to be reminded of what I’m celebrating is not in Matthew, or Luke, but in John:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God …
And the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us,
John 1:1, 14a
Unlike Matthew, John never mentions the wise men, or the star. Similarly, unlike Luke, he fails to mention angels and shepherds. He doesn’t even bother to mention the virgin birth. But what he does say is “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And, in that sentence, he cuts through all the distractions and gets to the very heart of the Christmas story.
As hard as it may be to realise, the nativity can get in the way of people grasping this simple, yet mind-boggling, truth. The Christmas story is not ultimately about angels appearing to shepherds, wise men following a star, or even about a virgin having a baby. Although, to be clear, I do believe that angels appeared to shepherds. I do believe that a star guided wise men to the birth of the Messiah. And (despite previous blog titles!) I do believe that a virgin gave birth to a son. It’s just that these things can be the religious, biblical trimmings that cover the true message.
Christmas would still be Christmas if there had been no shepherds. Christmas would still be Christmas if there had been no wise men. And Christmas would still be Christmas if (dare I say this!) there had been no virgin birth! (There I said it!). Christmas would have always been Christmas so long as this truth remains … “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is the heart of the Christmas story, and if the nativity story distracts us from it, then maybe it’s time we got the nativity out of Christmas!