Christmas has often been used as a timely deadline for various activities. Most hauntingly in the First World war when everyone believed that the war would be over and the troops would be home for Christmas. We have travelled again through 2014 to 2018 a hundred years later and I now realise how it must have felt to have had war over four successive Christmases when the soldiers were not home for Christmas. They were fighting and being killed on and around Christmas day. It was an unbelievably long time to wait for the safe return of family or a loved one. It makes the story of the football match on no man’s land on Christmas Day 1914 all the more remarkable during an informal truce. It is interesting to note that such a truce was against orders and viewed as deeply subversive!
I have always wanted to build my own house and have followed Grand Designs on television over the last twenty years. It has cured me of any aspiration to build my own house. Instead, I admire the courage and hard work of others, when things are going badly wrong and people are missing completion dates. They talk of finishing and being moved in time for Christmas. It never seems to come true, and is said more in hope than expectation.
I wonder how much Mary was looking forward to the first Christmas. It was her first child and she would have had no idea of what was to come. I do wonder if she thought that she had more time before that baby was born and so undertook the journey to Bethlehem. Perhaps she knew the baby was about to be born but she had no choice and had to go to be registered. The registration was ordered by the occupying Roman army who said everyone had to be registered. It was a census for taxation purposes and was extremely unpopular and inconvenient!
In many examples I have looked at, Christmas seems to often transcend our human toil and involves real struggles with success and failure. It finds a new level where new possibilities can be imagined and sometimes even realised. It can provide a place where people can reach out to help others whether they are family or even strangers. For me, it allows new possibilities or even healing of old wounds. It is no real coincidence that it has a lot of the hallmarks of how we might imagine God to work in our world.
It is always important to focus on what Christmas is about. For me, it is about a gift of love and what new possibilities that might afford. It is not about long lists, too much food and too much to drink. It is not about how many presents we receive or how much we spend on presents. It is about spending time with people we love and sharing joy. It is about love overspilling into our world and bringing hope to those who have become lost or isolated.
Rev. Martin Wood. The Rectory, Church Lane, Cheriton Bishop EX6 6HY 01647 24119 (Tuesday to Sunday) firstname.lastname@example.org