Updated: May 19
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, and so you might say it is the biggest birthday party in the world, a birthday party to which everyone is invited. We brought the flavour of a birthday party to our Christmas service, with the reading coming in the layers of pass the parcel, bubbles being blown as a sign of our prayers, and the instruments coming out to give Ding Dong an even more festive feel. In that spirit, our brief reflection took the theme of presents...
One of my favourite films, Little Women, starts with Jo sighing “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents”. It is after all a birthday, and one of the ways we celebrate birthdays is with the giving of presents. I explained to my young son this morning that we give gifts to one another because we can’t give them to the one whose birthday we are actually celebrating, that the presents under the tree are a way of responding to gift from God by passing on that generosity.
Of course there are presents offered to Jesus in Christmas story, the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the (indefinitely numbered) wise men. They are not perhaps the gifts you would usually give a baby - a cartoon doing the rounds online shows the three wiser women arriving with a stack of nappies, a casserole and a bottle of wine, gifts that I'm sure would have been more glady received by the new parents - but they were gifts with a meaning. Gold for a king, frankincense as a sign of worship, and myrrh as a foreshadowing of a significant death.
These presents are important because they remind us that the nativity is just the start of the story. Jesus doesn’t stay a baby in the manger but lives into the promise of those gifts. He might not become a king in the ususal sense of the word, but he does become the leader of a kind of revolution, a new way of living based on the generous and inclusive love of God and all that entails. He teaches those who follow him new ways to worship, and helps them understand the one they worship more fully. And he gets into such trouble for our sake that he dies a humiliating and excruciating death, then rises to a new life that tells us pain and sadness are never the end.
The really exciting part is that the nativity is just the start of a story for us too. We can join his revolution of love and justice and grace and kindness. We can worship the God that he revealed to us. And we can live with the promise of risen life that spills over into this life. We can let our lives be shaped by the life that began in that manger - what a new year resolution that would be!
I said that we give to others because we can’t give to Jesus but that's not strictly true. We may not be able to give presents all wrapped up in paper and tied with a bow, but we can give gifts of another sort. I asked my son last year what present he would give Jesus, and having just received a car track for Christmas, he said he would give him cars. He wanted to share something he loved, to play with Jesus.
I wonder what you might give to Jesus, what you might want to share with him if he were here as a baby or a man among us now. Would you want to play with him or talk with him or just sit with him? I wonder what else you might give to Jesus, what you might share with him as a less tangible but no less real presence in our lives. Might you give him more of your time or your attention or your love? How might you respond to the wonderful gift that is God with us and what might you give in return, not just this Christmas but in the days that follow? Questions to ponder perhaps, amisdt all the celebrations of this most wonderful of birthdays.
Throughout Advent we have lit our Advent candles, standing for hope and peace and joy love. The Christmas story is full of all of those things, but there is doubt and fear and sadness and hatred in their too, particularly in the response of Herod. Our own lives and our own world are just as mixed - perhaps in our current political and ecological climate you feel that more strongly than ever. So in our prayers this Christmas morning, we both gave thanks for and expressed our need for hope and peace and joy and love...
Thank you for the hope that comes at Christmas, as we remember that you came to live with us and understand our brokenness, so that you might help us to mend it.
Please give hope to those who feel without it this Christmas, those who are hungry or afraid, and encourage us to be their hope by living in ways that work for a better life for all.
Thank you for the peace that comes at Christmas, as we remember that you came to offer a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that will hold us steady through troubled times.
Please give peace to those who feel without it this Christmas, those whose lives have been hit by war or disaster, and encourage us to be their peace by living in ways that bring justice and security.
Thank you for the joy that comes at Christmas, as we celebrate the beginning of a new life that offers new and abundant life to us all.
Please give joy to those who feel without it this Christmas, those who are grieving or unhappy, and encourage us to be their joy by living in ways that bring light and warmth to their lives.
Thank you for the love that comes at Christmas, as we remember that it was love that brought you to us and it was love that you taught and showed us.
Please give love to those who feel without it this Christmas, those who are lonely or oppressed, and encourage us to be their love by living in ways that welcome and embrace all people.