Christmas 2017 is upon us with all its accompanying celebration, connection and cheer for many and its tensions and loneliness for others. When we consider the effort exerted in present buying, food preparation and events organisation, the question hovers like a helicopter parent, “Why do this? Why go to so much effort? What’s to be gained?”
The answer lies in our reason for having Christmas. Even if we’re fortunate enough to possess the means to provide a significant celebration, but don’t have a meaning for doing so, there is an emptiness of soul in what we do. What’s it all about, then? After the candles, carols, community street parties and consumption of food and alcohol, are we left wondering again why we did it all? It was fun for the kids, maybe families caught up, traditions are compelling, but what is the foundation, the source, the reason, the MEANING of it all?
For a sense of meaning we need to be reminded of the ancient story of a baby born over 2000 years ago, in a dirty stable, in a tiny town, in a remote part of the Roman Empire. A baby whose birth was heralded by angelic beings and honoured by foreign astrologers, but who was however to grow to adulthood in obscurity. So what meaning can be construed from the story of his birth? A birth that has snowballed around the world so that now, in this generation, it’s honoured by a plethora of culture-specific celebrations?
What was exceptional about this baby, which made him unlike any other? First his birth was predicted in ancient Jewish scriptures. Secondly, his mother was a virgin when she gave birth to him. And thirdly, he was confirmed as the Son of God because of the healing miracles he would perform and because of his radical, counter-cultural teaching about love of God and humanity. His life gave meaning to the lives of people who followed him, even when that meant personal suffering, and continues till now to inspire love and compassion in ordinary people.
Victor Frankl author and Holocaust survivor surmised that the three facets of the current mass neurotic syndrome in young people of depression, aggression and addiction are due to the “existential vacuum” of feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness.
It seems all of us need a reason or meaning, not just at Christmas, but also for the whole of life. Those who were privileged to glimpse the baby Jesus and catch the wonder of his exceptional birth, or later to be compelled by the truth of his words and life to follow him forever, were captured by meaning. The world now made sense. They were aware that God was with them. Likewise God is with us in all the mess of our lives. As The Message translation of John 3:16 puts it: God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
God is the source of meaning for Christmas and a relationship with God gives us meaning for life.
Rev Keith Jobberns
National Ministries Director