How many times have I heard, or said, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas!” What exactly that means is a bit hard to say. What should Christmas feel like anyway? Snow and fir trees and open fires? The Christmas shopping madness? Santa Claus? Too much food? Holidays? Or is it something to do with a baby born 2000 years ago in a stable in the Middle East?
Peace. Joy. Love. All the good things of life are celebrated just now. But we find peace fairly elusive amidst the madness of shopping and preparing. There is little time for meditation or reflection. Joy is something we are striving for, thinking somehow that it will come with food and presents and family. But so often Christmas comes and the anticipated joy never really eventuates, lost somewhere in the piles of torn wrapping paper that litter the floor. We are just exhausted, vaguely disappointed in the anticlimax.
Love… well we hardly have time for either expressing or receiving that. We are caught in the deception that people will feel loved if we give them something. We want to tell people we love them and the world says that only giving stuff will achieve that. So we rush around, desperate to think of something to give which our friends and family don’t already have. Which is hard in a society where we have pretty much everything.
But is that what they really want? Is that the thing that will help them know we love them? Surely getting gifts is fairly meaningless in the absence of a real sense of being accepted and liked for who we are… Perhaps one gift that those around us would really appreciate is time, and that is the one thing that we don’t have to give. Of the five love languages only one is about gifts. The others (words of affirmation, quality time, physical affection, acts of service) get easily lost at this time of year, with all the business of getting stuff to give.
Love is surely the centre of Christmas, not gifts which are only one expression of that. Jesus is the centre of Christmas because he is the ultimate expression of love. He showed us what love is, by serving, by simply being with his friends, by speaking words of affirmation to the messy people amongst whom he lived. And he touched people, physically reaching out and touching them, even the lepers, in all their misery. He does the same for us, even now. Mysteriously, through his Spirit, but also very practically, through his followers. That is us.
Today snow is falling fast outside our window. I dragged Isak to school on a sled this morning. Snow makes me happy in the cold darkness of this northern land. It falls and falls and covers everything. All the dirtiness and messiness of the world disappears under a blanket of pure white. The junk I threw out in the garden a few weeks ago, waiting to be taken to the tip, has disappeared. The litter on the streets, the mud and slush of the last few weeks – its all gone, and in its place is the beauty of winter, real winter. Its a wonderful gift, better than what is in the shops today. Like the gift of Jesus, who covers all our messiness and dirtiness with a coat of white purity. The dirt, the mistakes, the mess – all disappeared in the purity of Jesus. We are clean, not because of what we have done, but because of what has fallen on us from above, like snow…