Christmas is a great time for catching up with family and friends. Long, lazy meals are chances to tell old stories, relax and laugh. For some, of course, the joy of Christmas is muted by sadness or loneliness. When the front door is shut, what surfaces are rafts of unhappy memories. There is often a huge gap between the fantasy world of the adverts and the reality we face. The fantasy world says life is a series of treats and choices: ‘It’s your call’, ‘Do what you want’, ‘Go on, spoil yourself. You’re worth it’. Reality is about getting up in the morning and trying to make the best of what faces us.
The problem with the fantasy world of the adverts is not just that it isn’t true: it encourages us to slide into forgetting that good community life, like a happy family, doesn’t just happen by magic. It needs the investment of time and energy. Every school, every charity, every parish, every youth club, every residents’ association, every voluntary organisation depends on people giving up their time to make it happen. Without that effort community life withers, and we end up strangers rather than neighbours.
At Christmas we celebrate the gift of God to us in the child Jesus Christ. His birth was no fantasy. It was a real event in a time of political unrest in an occupied country. The situation must have been not dissimilar to what many people are experiencing across the Middle East today. Such is the generosity of a God who takes risks. The God we thought a stranger, we discover to be a neighbour and a friend, crying in a manger, inviting our love in return. Meeting this God changes outlooks and transforms lives.
Let’s enjoy Christmas, the parties and the get-togethers. But come the New Year when we return to the ordinary and the routine, let’s pray that through our celebration of Christ’s birth we may find the time and the energy to give to others, to build community and strengthen friendship. This birth challenges complacency. This birth invites generosity.