I love a traditional Christmas: festive lights, candles, Christmas trees, decorations, tinsel, holly etc. Ironically, we missed our traditional British Christmas in, of all places, Jerusalem, when we lived there.
We lived near the Armenian community, who had their own elaborate rituals and plenty of candles. But some of the Christians we mixed with were rather puritanical about it: claiming it was a pagan feast adopted by the church. They claimed the Christmas tree was a pagan symbol, thus displaying their ignorance of church history. In the 7th century Saint Boniface adopted the tree, with its triangular shape as a symbol of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three sides representing God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. So there is a very long Christian tradition about the Christmas tree.
One year Patricia and I celebrated Christmas night on our own in Eilat, on the southern tip of Israel. We sat in the car, within sight of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, sang carols and read the Christmas story. Then we opened a bottle of bubbly on the beach (the cork disappeared somewhere in the direction of Saudi Arabia!). An unusual but memorable Christmas!
When I took over as Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, we held a Midnight Communion and hundreds of Jewish Israelis used to turn up to watch. At least they liked Christmas, even if some of the Jewish Christians didn’t! We always welcomed them warmly and made sure the service had relevance to them.
However, I agree with the Puritans in one respect. If we’re not careful we can lose the real meaning of Christmas in the midst of parties, overeating, sharing presents and even singing carols and Nativity plays, if it is only sentiment.
Christmas is the night when God began to fulfil a plan, hatched in eternity. Rather than write us off as a lot of losers and rebels, God wanted to save humanity. He therefore needed, on the one hand, to satisfy the demands of his perfect justice (that all wrong doing must be punished) and, on the other, to allow failing people like you and me to be close to him in this life and the next. So he decided, in his love, to take the punishment on himself, a terrible punishment – the death penalty. Therefore, since God can’t die, he had to became man, so that he could die. That’s why God became man on Christmas night.
If you really believe that, you’ll give yourself totally to God – the best Christmas present anyone could give to Jesus on his birthday.
A Christmas Prayer: Dear God, thank you for becoming man in Jesus on Christmas night, so you could die for me. Thank you that this opens the way for me to have a close relationship with you now and to share eternity with you hereafter. I want to give myself to you. Help me to do so and show me how to work that out in the new year. Amen.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction