My social media feeds at the moment are full of people moaning about and grieving over Christmas this year. Back in the UK friends are working out which COVID “tier” they live and its implications for their celebrations. People are saying that they feel Christmas won’t be Christmas without the parties, the Christmas markets, the big family get togethers and round of festive meals with work and other organisations. In Edinburgh where our children live some people in the city are in uproar about the level of COVID regulations that mean they won’t be able to celebrate Christmas down the pub this year as they normally do.
This week I got round to finding our Nativity Scene and setting it up. I put Jesus in the centre of the stable then carefully positioned Mary and Joseph, the Magi and Shepherds so that they are all focused on Jesus. It was only later as I was reading all the angst about Christmas that I thought about what I had done with our nativity scene. I had made sure that Jesus was at the centre and that he was the focus of attention.
Reflecting on all of this as we approach Christmas I wonder if 2020 rather than depriving us of having a “real” Christmas is instead giving us an opportunity? An opportunity to do what I did with our Nativity scene and put Jesus at the centre. Under normal circumstances Christmas inevitably involves us in a hectic couple of weeks of frantic activity, with partying and eating. Now I enjoy those festivities as much as anyone and feasting in celebration is just as much a part of Christian tradition as fasting but there is a danger in our celebrations. The danger is that in among all of the normal Christmas events and activities that Jesus is no longer the focus of our Christmas. Christmas activities can all too easily obscure Jesus rather than focus our attention on Him. I always think about that story of Mary and Joseph losing the young Jesus among all the activities and festivities going on in Jerusalem. That story seems like a metaphor for Christmas some years, we somehow lose Jesus among the tinsel, parties, mince pies and celebrations. Like Mary and Joseph, we inadvertently forget about him and just carry on without him.
That leads me to Christmas 2020. I am wondering if this odd Christmas season gives us a unique opportunity to refocus on what for us as Christians really matters about Christmas? To make our Christmas this year like my Nativity scene, centred on Jesus, focused on Him. COVID has inadvertently given us a chance to remember that the essence of Christmas is not about what we do at Christmas but what God has done for us through Christmas by, in the words of John’s Gospel, “becoming flesh and dwelling among us”
For as long as I can remember as the church, we have been talking about how Jesus is “the reason for season” and that we want to put “Christ back in Christmas.” Well, 2020 is certainly giving us the chance to walk the talk on that. What if we used some of that spare time freed up with us not being able to participate in our normal festivities to focus on Jesus? I wonder what would happen if we as the church were to become more profoundly shaped by the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth that Matthew and Luke tell? What if our celebrations focused on the joy of realising God has a sent a Saviour? What if while we show appreciation for all the gifts we are given most of all we join with Paul in heartfelt, joyful gratitude and praise for the greatest gift of all and say “ Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15