The Festival of Christmas

In this past week, I try and make a few extra visits to the police to see how the teams are faring. We all want happy times at Christmas – holidays and good family vibes – but the police often see another side to people which Christmas either exacerbates or ameliorates. No shift wants to be called out Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and in my experience over the years some Christmas times are filled with ‘peace and good will’ while others are definitely not so. The police ask me about my ‘busy time’ (not as busy as Easter I often reply) and I have been known to quip that at Christmas ‘I know what I should say’! I know the story! (And sometimes I get to retell it in the station!)

But whose Christmas story do we know?! I remember comments a long time ago when I ran a short ‘Christmas IQ’ test in The British Lutheran that (a) I had surprised people with some of the answers; and (b) that I had sort of ‘ruined’ Christmas – a little – for some when I debunked some of the accepted Christmas ‘facts’ about stables, animals, transportation, Wise Men which largely had come from songs, Christmas cards, Nativity sets, and Christmas plays. The Biblical accounts of Christmas are few (only according to Matthew and Luke), quite brief, and often leave more questions than answers. And that’s what has happened over the centuries – we’ve filled in the gaps somewhat – we’ve provided the answers.

It is our human condition to want to add to God’s Word, to improve on it, fill in the gaps, update it. Our imagination puts images to words and our reason can deduce what happened from what is not said. That is part of how we engage with literature – and the Bible is a library of literature (66 books to be precise). But where this adding to God’s Word becomes problematic is when we hold to and teach our additions, our interpretations as God’s Word itself. That can lead us down all sorts of rabbit holes and away from God’s Word. For Christians, God’s Word needs to stand as we learn to conform to it and be transformed by it rather than the other way round. Our principle of interpretation is that Scripture conveys Christ – not the Christ of our own image – but the Christ revealed completely in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms so that the Church – you and me – are the living temple built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone. This Jesus is truly God and truly human and died for us on the cross and was raised for our salvation and life with him. 

This is why Christmas is special and precious – because we know what this baby will do when a man for us. The Christmas story is recorded because the writers know Jesus has died and been raised and those writers want their readers and hearers to know this Jesus too! You can start a story almost anywhere. The Christmas accounts set the scene for what is to come later. If you look and listen well, you will see already – a long way off in the distance – the cross to which all of Jesus’ life has been heading. It is in finding the cross that the true meaning of Christmas begins to be found.

Do you know the Christmas story? However you tell the Christmas story make sure you include in your thoughts – or in your words if telling someone – two words – ‘FOR YOU’. Christmas, this baby, Jesus – and what will happen later – are all FOR YOU. You are loved that much by God!

A blessed Christmas to you!