Sally Hitchiner –Brunel University Chaplain
Christmas is a time for miracles. Children, Carols, charity and light coming small and beautifully into darkness in the form of a little baby, the possibility of getting the entire family around a table for once!
There are people who hate Christmas and often with good reason. The cheery family perfection just isn’t real for a lot of us, giving our loved ones a “proper Christmas” is expensive and if you’re anything like me, you get to Christmas day having not done half the things you’d hoped to. The cards, the presents, organising the in-laws, the cooking, the cleaning and of course the shopping won’t do itself! And then there are those picture perfect family scenes with everyone smiling and playing boardgames or gathered around a piano to sing carols. Forget that we are stressed about work or our relationships you’d be forgiven for thinking that “Christmas” demands that we pretend everything is lovely.
I’d like to invite you to take a break from all that. Because Christmas, real Christmas, is much kinder. In fact the first thing the Christmas story tells us is that we’re not alone in finding life stressful. Mary and Joseph were just recovering from a near break up, they were struggling to make ends meet, they hadn’t been organised enough to set up a room to stay in and their relatives didn’t seem to care. And just at that moment, when everything was all going wrong, the miracle happened: God showed up. It didn’t make everything ok. It barely changed their relational or organisational or financial situation… though they did get three rather unusual gifts! But it changed their experience of life. And the miracle wasn’t just for Jesus’ parents.
“Unto you is born this day a saviour” the angel told the shepherds. The Christmas miracle for you and me! The Christmas message is that God has joined your team.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and activist wrote this from a Nazi prison where he was being held. “So the Christmas message for all humanity runs: You are accepted, God has not despised you, but he bears in his body all your flesh and blood. Look at the cradle! In the body of the little child, in the incarnate son of God, your flesh, all your distress, anxiety, temptation, indeed everything that separates you from God, is borne, forgiven and healed.”
That was the experience of Emma who came to my church for the first time last Christmas. She told me later that she was a bit nervous that she wouldn’t know what to do but was warmly welcomed at the door and handed a order of service that explained what would happen. She sat down and as the music started she found she recognised a few of the carols. As the hour long service continued she felt gathered up as people from all over her community sang and celebrated. As she listened to the stories of Christmas, of a little baby being born to an ordinary couple in an ordinary town, the angels gathering up the poor shepherds and the star guiding the rich wise men, Emma told me that she felt a sense of peace that she hadn’t felt for a long time. Her life didn’t radically change but she found something that has stuck with her and she keeps coming back to…she felt that God was with her.
So I’d like to invite you to a Christmas service this year. It may be your local Midnight Mass on Christmas eve or a Christmas Day service on Tuesday morning. I can promise you’ll have a warm welcome and maybe some Christmas cheer but what’s more important is that Christmas miracles still happen. It might be that just at that moment when life is hardest, so much isn’t the way you’d want it, that this is when God turns up.
Sally Hitchiner – Chaplain, Brunel University London