“It was the best of times ; it was the worst of times.” Dickens might well have been describing Christmas! It is a time to which many look forward with great excitement, and which others anticipate with dread. Tragic though this may seem, shouldn’t this tension be the heart of our Christmas celebration?
It is a reminder of both the need for and the provision of, God’s grace. The world that today faces the same dehumanising realities that it faced when Christ was born in Bethlehem, is the same world we inhabit.
We need only picture the place where it happened. At centre-stage in God’s universal plan, there are untrustworthy shepherds, unwelcome foreigners, and unprepared peasant parents. At the centre of the universe, is a tiny bundle of limbs, shivering helplessly in a feeding trough, exposed to all the vulnerabilities and powerlessness that a human could face. And yet here it is, in this city of David, in Beth-lehem (house of bread), that God provides.
To consider the plight of Bethlehem today, it might be difficult to imagine that anything significant had happened there. Dividing walls, racial tensions, and economic hardship seem to visit the problems of all humanity upon this beleaguered city. It is a lens where the tensions that plague our world seem focussed. And yet it is perhaps especially in such circumstances, that the grace of God is seen most clearly.
To celebrate Christmas well, is obviously not only to focus upon smiles, presents and families. But to remember the pain, the divisions, the injustice that cried out and continue to cry out in our world today, for the grace we celebrate at Christmas. To celebrate Christmas well, we pray with and for the people living in the darkness of every little Bethlehem in today’s world, because only then do we witness for ourselves the great light of Christ (Isa 9:2).
(Published in Bloomsbury News, 2007)