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Christmas is a wonderful festival, celebrated throughout the Christian world in a huge variety of different ways. It is full of colour and light and joy as we remember the birth of Jesus into the world, and so much of it is focussed on the beautiful story of that birth, with its images of angels and shepherds, heavenly music, the coming of the strange, wise, rich men following a star from very distant lands. A very beautiful story, and one with the ring of truth behind it, but what is really so important about it? Why do we make so much fuss of it?
For a start, the amount of fuss that is made nowadays is a modern thing. For Christians, wonderful and moving as the story is, it is only of minor importance compared with Easter, when the story of Jesus' life on earth reaches it's climax, and we see why it all happened. A hundred years ago, Christmas was a celebration of hearth and home. Yes, there were Christmas trees, Prince Albert brought them to England, there was carol singing and presents and visits to friends and relatives, but the huge fuss, starting at the beginning of December and even earlier in some cases [I have spoken to people who go on 'Tinsel and Turkey' holidays, complete with present, crackers and all the rest of it in early November!], is something that has developed in the last thirty years as the Christmas festival has become more and more commercialised. When I was a child, Christmas shopping was mostly done in the last week before Christmas, the tree went up on Christmas Eve, or at the earliest, the weekend before, as we decorated our homes to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child. Because that is what Christmas is really all about.
Christmas is not 'all about the children', it is not a 'children's festival'. It is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child; when we celebrate the coming into our world of God himself in human form, come "..with healing in his wings". God was born into our world in a wonderful and mysterious way, not so that we might have a jolly party and enjoy good food and company, decorate our homes and pull crackers, not even so that children could have a wonderfully exciting time with visits to Santa, presents and stockings, but so that we might realise how much God loves us and cares about us, all of us. He came so that our sins, the things we do and say that separate us from him and from each other, might be forgiven and so that "…our eyes at last shall see him through his own redeeming love …". Jesus was born to poor parents and laid in a manger at Bethlehem so that we might be set free from burdening guilt and have the promise of eternal life when we try to follow his way of living.
So Christmas is both a greater and a lesser event than the way we celebrate it today. It has far greater implications for all of us than simply a time to have a thoroughly good time, a break from work and a family celebration, because it is the time when we remember the beginning of the most amazing act of God, his coming into the world for our redemption. And it is a lesser event because it is only the beginning. Of far greater significance for Christians is Easter, the time that Christmas points towards, the reason and the fulfilment of all Jesus birth, life death and resurrection.
The story of Christmas may be 'the most beautiful story ever told', but it is only the beginning of a far greater story. A story that has real meaning, real significance, for every one of God's children alive in the world today and for all time.
How will you celebrate Christmas this year? However you celebrate it, try to keep in mind what it is really all about because it is your story - a story that is meant to enable you to find peace, joy and the reassurance of eternal life.