Saturday, December 14, 2013

As we enter the busy Christmas season it can be hard to keep our focus on the central facts of Christ's coming but we need to do so to avoid being swept up in trivia. Perhaps the passing of Nelson Mandela at this time of the year has helped to give pause to the annual headlong rush to accumulate trinkets and spend shed-loads of money, but only just. His noble legacy of grace, diplomacy and the victory of forgiveness over resentment have all merited airtime recently and may just serve to bring a dash of sanity to this recurring manic phase of capitalist splurging on non-essentials. At least I hope so.

I really am doing my best to avoid the 'humbug' scowl of the Charles Dickens character Scrooge because I simply don't feel like that. I can still remember my first Christmas as a Christian, savouring the wonder of Christ's coming to save the likes of me! I also love the fact that here in the West we get a festival of lights and feasting in our dark mid-winter, but I hope for better things than many people seem to experience at this time.  Is it too much to want real peace and joy instead of debt and domestic conflict? I don't think so and yet for too many homes the bills piling up will only add pressure to the tinder keg of strained relationships.  Sadly the experience of counselling organisations in the aftermath of Christmas each year testifies to this.

So how can we make a difference this Christmas? There have been lots of sensible tips given by folk as far apart as the Archbishop of Canterbury and various television budget advisers, but I want to say let's try to get behind the hype and discover the real Jesus this year. Let's take time to listen to the words of the traditional carols, like 'O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel' and 'be born in us today'. The real Jesus impacted our world far more powerfully than Nelson Mandela did, setting people free, not just from racism or political injustice, but from the chains that bind us within.  After all, racism and hatred are symptoms of a much deeper problem that requires a more radical solution than free and fair elections. Only a change of heart will do - and that's what I pray for you this Christmas.