Christmas is a time of celebration and of joy, when the cares of the world recede for a day. Psalm 98 is prescribed for us to read: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord”, that one! It goes on to indicate that roaring seas, surging floods and quiet hills should conspire to praise and be joyful; this is all a bit difficult for literalists like myself. I have a problem with the hymn that has trees clapping their hands, on the grounds that trees don’t have hands, so you can see where I am coming from. However, I can see that every event, every situation that we encounter, can become a source of joy for us, if we can let go of our own security and anxieties and find the happiness that lies there.
As a child on our annual trip to the sea at Bridlington, my father would hope for a strong East wind so that we could stand too close to the Promenade wall and watch waves breaking over the walkway. I was entranced more than frightened. We make some progress towards being easy with our lives when we can accept that even destructive forces have a beauty and a joy.
Christmas, however, is even more special because it celebrates birth. At Christmas we celebrate even the inauspicious birth of an impoverished child to an unwed mother in a stranger’s stable in a land of violence and bloodshed; we celebrate that this and every child is a child of God. When my computer starts up, it flashes a legend on the screen about having “intel installed”; well, human beings have the Spirit of God installed at birth, awaiting only recognition and encouragement to grow and become fruitful.
This particular baby, Jesus, the origin of the Christian Church and its traditions, whose life is largely unknown except for the sketchy records of the New Testament, has nevertheless had a profound effect on the World and its peoples. We rejoice because of the reminder of Christmas that we too are special because of this visitation. It is no accident that the other tradition, of a Father Christmas, is also about the visit into our lives of a joyful happiness-bringer who enables us to express our love for others by the presenting of gifts; often ascribing the generosity to the mythical figure in the red cloak with a fur-lined hood.
The world would be a better place if the indiscriminate distribution of love and care that we exercise at Christmas were to persist throughout the year. If we could, all year, give selflessly without the need for recognition; if we could, all year, believe the best of people and be perfectly nice to those whom we don’t yet know; if we could find, in floods, in roaring seas, and in quiet hills, and maybe in business meetings and family arguments, opportunities for joy and praise. A better place? Worth seeking!