And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
Words from John Betjemen’s poem: Christmas.
I really like Christmas. Not just for the chocolate, presents, good food and drink, and did I mention the chocolate? I really like Christmas for that feeling. That Christmas feeling. Things somehow feel different at Christmas. There’s a sense of excitement – children needing no persuasion to go to bed for once so that they can wake up before the dawn to open stockings and excitedly bounce their parents awake. An excitement of meeting friends and family and sharing the Christmas feast. And the sharing – of time, of hospitality, of friendship and love. There’s something about Christmas.
And the reading from John encapsulates this feeling that there is something different here. Something is happening: the Word becomes flesh. The Word that has existed before all time, that spoke into being all that is in the world becomes real, here, amongst God’s people, within God’s creation. And suddenly the world seems different. The light has come into the world, the light that darkness cannot comprehend. The light that the darkness cannot overcome. God is with us and it’s as if God has always been here – because God has always been with us. But now, the word has become flesh and dwells among us. It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be, that God’s own Son should come from heaven, as one hymn tells.
So in the birth of Jesus, that baby lying in a manger, the world changes. Or does it? Because it can seem as if everything has just stayed the same. Just look at what happens to that baby in the manger, with all the promise and hope that he brought. “Nails, spears will pierce him through, the cross be borne for me for you.” And look at the world today: war in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, amongst others, a climate crisis threatening the world’s very existence, food and fuel bills rising. What has changed? What difference has this baby made? “And man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring. Oh hush your noise ye men of war and hear the angels sing.”
But that is precisely what has changed. The love song, the song of peace on earth, good will to all. To All. God is with us, dwelling here among us, and that changes the world. Suddenly there is real hope, real joy, real peace on offer, if we’d just hush our noise and stop fighting each other, stop the divisions we create between people, between groups, and listen to the song, the message of Christmas. Because in Jesus, the baby in the manger. God gives himself to us, for us. God empties himself into creation and lives as one of us, understands our “hopes and fears of all the years”. This is what is given in Jesus in the manger, giving this time of year that special feeling. We can stop, look, think about this wondrous gift given to us and see the light in the darkness.
A little light, shining from the manger, reflected in a mother’s face, the faces of all who see him, hear of him. A light of hope that spreads and chases darkness away, overcomes it. Because that is what light does. A candle shines in the darkness and immediately, the darkness is broken. Then the light spreads to the next candle and the dark is pushed further back, and again, and again. The light spreads and gets stronger. And these candles are symbols of the light, the hope that has spread through the birth of the Word, of Jesus. The light spreads, fills the space. It demands to be noticed, the light of good news, of hope, of freedom from oppression, of peace on earth – peace: wholeness of person and unity with others. This light of peace, of hope spreads from the Christ child, to our hearts and from our hearts into our actions and into the world, transforming us, transforming the world, just as our candles transform the physical dark into light.
Through the spreading of the light the world is changed from one at war, where humans vie for power, for dominance, and instead it creates peace, wholeness, compassion and love. This light, seen in acts of kindness and love: in helping others; offering sanctuary to Ukrainian refugees, all refugees; giving to charity; donations to those in need. These, like our candles, spread the light of the love of the Christ child through us into the world. This is the Christmas feeling, one that leads to actions of hope and love so that we can help the world comprehend the light, the message of love, peace, wholeness, unity and compassion, not just in the story today, but lived in our lives and through our lives.
Let us spread the light of Christ, the message of love, hope and peace, all year, so that the Christmas feeling can be felt always: a light for life, not just for Christmas.
The Reverend Jackie Sellin, Assistant Chaplain
Reference: Oakley M (2016) A Good Year, chapter: Williams R “A Good Christmas” p29, SPCK