Christmas Day is one of the great feast days in the Christian calendar, and probably the most eagerly anticipated. Children will be on tenterhooks, waiting to see whether they get the presents they’ve asked for. For most adults, it’ll be a chance to enjoy some time off work, visit family and friends, and share a fine meal together. Even non-Christians appreciate the opportunity – or the excuse – to have a celebration, and who would begrudge anyone a day of happiness and joy, especially in these troubled times?
Recently, our television screens have been filled with images and reports of carnage in Gaza, slaughter in Israel, bloodshed in Ukraine, the furore over migrant boats arriving on British and other countries’ shores and, of course, the cost-of-living and energy crises (which present very real challenges for many people in our parishes and communities). The world is a very dark place, at present, so one might reasonably ask, ‘What is there to celebrate?’
For Christians, the birth of Jesus – the arrival of God on earth – is undoubtedly something to be enormously thankful for. Matthew 1 v 23 tells us, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). For me, the Incarnation is tremendously reassuring, as is Christ’s promise – in Matthew 28 v 20 – that he is with us always, “to the very end of the age”.
Our Christmas Day liturgies are peppered with references to ‘light’. In our Morning Prayer on Christmas Day, we’ll be invited to “come to the light of Christ”. The liturgy for Evening Prayer will say, “To dispel the darkness of our night you sent forth your Son, the firstborn of all creation, to be the Christ, the light of the world.” One of my favourite prayers begins with the words, “Lighten our darkness”. And Jesus himself told us, in John 8 v 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Light is comforting and reassuring. It guides us along the right path. It enlightens us and helps us to see more clearly. Often, in the darkness, it’s difficult to see the good that’s being done around us. But it is happening – in our parishes, schools and hospitals; throughout our healthcare services; in workplaces, charities and the community and voluntary sector; and wherever our emergency services personnel are at work. We are truly blessed by this generosity of spirit.
This Christmas, I give thanks for the Incarnation of God on earth. I pray that we will all come to Christ – the light of the world. I pray that his light will illuminate the road to a better future and enlighten people all around the globe. I pray that all of us – here in our homes and parishes; in war-torn places like Gaza, Israel and Ukraine; wherever there is pain and anguish and turmoil – will come to know the peace of Christ — the greatest gift that any of us could hope for this Christmas.
I wish you all a joyful, prayerful and peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.+Andrew, Derry and Raphoe