Every year Christmas seems to come earlier. This year, Poundland had Christmas decorations on sale in early October. However, this is beaten hands down by a Facebook post I saw just a few days later – a Tesco selling hot cross buns a whole five months before Good Friday!
For many people, Christmas can be a stressful time. It’s expensive – can we afford it? It’s about parties and food and drink – can I face it again? It’s about finding the right presents for everyone – will I be able to meet expectations? And for some it can be the loneliest time of year.
Christmas was never meant to be like this. Our consumer culture has performed the most amazing takeover – Christmas has become about what we buy, eat or drink. Marketing experts compete to sell us products that will make us feel more fulfilled or better about ourselves; the truth is they only give us fleeting happiness. Each year John Lewis (of course, other retailers are also available) bewitches us with its latest cinematic advert to get us into the seasonal mood – and to encourage us to buy just a little bit more than last year. For children everywhere, Santa Claus means Christmas is about presents. And he only wears red because of Coca Cola.
It’s so easy to cross that fine line between celebration and gluttony. The danger is that Christmas becomes just an excuse to eat and drink a little bit too much – but don’t worry, we’ll come up with a New Year’s Resolution or undergo a Detox January to make amends.
For Christmas to be what it was always meant to be, we need to focus on who it is we are celebrating. Because as I’m sure you’ll agree, the real Christmas has nothing to do with what we buy, how many parties we go to, whether we love or hate turkey, Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, mince pies…. the list goes on.
So, what does it mean for us to put Christ at the heart of Christmas? I would argue that to do so we must remember the reason God sent his only Son Jesus to earth as a baby. And that is simply because he loves us.
Love has become a somewhat misused word – what exactly do we mean by it? St John, possibly Jesus’ best friend, boldly claims that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4.16). It is precisely because God is love that Jesus came to earth as Saviour. St Luke records that the angel told the shepherds on the hillside near Bethlehem:
‘‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2.10-11).
Christmas should be a time of great joy, not immense stress! By focusing on Jesus and why he came to earth, we can know God’s peace and hope in a world full of turmoil and uncertainty. But we must let Jesus be our own, personal and life-giving saviour.
Which rather neatly brings me back to those hot cross buns in Tesco. We can’t fully understand why Jesus was born as Saviour in Bethlehem on that first Christmas Day without also recognising that his excruciating death on the cross at Calvary was an essential part of the same story.
Jesus is only truly our Saviour when we acknowledge that he died in our place because we’ve all fallen short of God’s standards. He has saved us from a life without purpose and given us certain hope of an eternal future that will be out of this world! He has sacrificed his life for us so we can know God with us each and every day, and experience his true hope and peace. Maybe those buns are not so out of season after all!
Photo: I rather like this nativity cross. It rather wonderfully brings together the birth of Jesus within the context of the cross.
So this Christmas, let’s take a step back from the razzamatazz, the marketing and the world’s expectations. Let’s take time to consider what it really meant for God, our heavenly Father and creator, to send his Son to live among his creation. And let’s allow him to be our Lord and Saviour. You might like to do so by praying this wonderful prayer, written by Nicky Gumbel and featured in the Alpha Course and Why Jesus? booklet:
Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life (take a few moments to ask his forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience). Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank you, Lord Jesus, Amen.
Wishing you a very happy and meaningful Christmas!