“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Now then, whether or not you believe this to be an accurate historical account is, to some extent at least, immaterial: for it is still a fabulous piece of writing. Maybe not the ‘greatest story’ ever told, but certainly a great story in its own right. A story you cannot read without marvelling at the magic and majesty of the style and language.
Indeed, I am one of those atheists who read the King James Bible for the sheer pleasure of reading it.
So I can understand why so many Christians celebrate the birth of their Jesus, their Saviour: because if this story is true then it is clearly and deservedly worth celebrating.
But what are the rest of us celebrating? What about those who don’t attend church or carol services? What about the increasing numbers of people for whom religion and Jesus mean nothing? What are they looking for? Let me put that another way: why do so many people seem to think that Christmas is a ‘special’ time, a time when we should think of others while expecting higher standards of ourselves?
For most people reading this, Christmas was a key part of their growing up. We remember when we were young, when we still believed that anything was possible.
It’s amazing how many of us remember – sometimes decades later – the exact details of childhood Christmases. We remember our parents when they were younger and our brothers and sisters. We remember those no longer with us. We remember specific presents. We remember gathering around the television as a family. We remember the years when it snowed or when the electricity failed. We remember the smells that filled the house for weeks afterwards. Christmas is about us when we were at our happiest: and that’s why we try and recreate those moments for our family.
I want Megan and Lilah-Liberty to smile when they think of their Christmas in 10 or 20 years time and they have children of their own. I want them to remember the ‘Santa presents’ at the fireplace and the half-eaten carrots and cookies. I want them to remember the snow in the lounge and Santa’s footprints (Kerri and I covered the floor in flour and made the footprints at three in the morning). I want them to remember and recreate that sense of wide-eyed wonder when they tumbled out of bed in the early hours and discovered filled stockings. I want them to sing and go happily bonkers when they decorate their own trees. I want them to remember how much they have always been loved and how powerful and reassuring that love can be at times of crisis when we won’t always be with them.
I remember my own first Christmas. It was 1961, a few months after I had been adopted. I was six. I still have the photograph of me standing with my Mum and ‘Santa’ in a department store in Armagh: and I still remember that my present was an Airfix kit. The most important thing about that photograph, though, is the look on my face: I remember the moment like it was yesterday afternoon, because it was the first time in my life that I felt wanted and felt secure.
I’m not a particularly sentimental person and Christmas was never a ‘big thing’ for me: and in some ways it still isn’t. But it is a ‘big thing’ for my girls and I want them to dig out photographs in 50 years time and celebrate the simple, uncomplicated truth that they were loved, wanted and secure.
Forget all the usual stuff about the commercialism and secularism of Christmas.
People will believe what matters to them at this time of year and Christians will spoil their children just as much as the atheists and agnostics do. What really matters and what is truly worth celebrating is our family. And if you enjoy that personal sense of happiness and security it’s amazing how much you will want to share it with others.
So, whoever you are, wherever you are, whomever your ‘family’ consists of and whatever your beliefs, enjoy Christmas. And, no matter how difficult it may be (and I realise that many people have huge difficulties in life), count your blessings. There’s probably an awful lot more of them than you imagine.