I wonder what is your favourite Christmas song. White Christmas, perhaps. Little Drummer Boy. Mary’s Boy Child. Maybe Merry Christmas Everybody. Or I wish it could be Christmas every day. Or Lonely this Christmas. Perhaps you also have a favourite Christmas Carol. One of my Christmas song memories comes from the three years my wife and I lived in the Republic of Panama, when the temperature never dropped below 23 degrees day or night all year round, but we still found that one of the most commonly played songs in the shops was – I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Quite a dream in that oppressively hot climate.
I guess my favourite Christmas song has to be the one sung by the angels and written down for us by Luke in his Gospel – Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours.
This was surely the X-factor winner of its day, and the shepherds, out in the fields, must have been completely bowled over by this fantastic and unexpected choir. It certainly had an impact on them. They abandoned their sheep for the moment and went rushing off to Bethlehem to visit this special new baby.
Mind you, I do sometimes wonder how welcome they were. You’re stuck in the stable because it is the only space anybody can find for you to stay. You’ve just had a baby. And a bunch of smelly shepherds arrive at the door. Talk about unwanted Christmas visitors. But the story brings home to us the message that what really matters about Christmas is that the extraordinary God comes into our messy world in such an ordinary way, born as a baby, an event that is always both ordinary and amazing – and has it announced not to the powerful and influential of the day, but to a bunch of very ordinary shepherds.
I know that sometimes it seems as though Christmas has got over-commercialised and that there is a real risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I have even heard it asked whether we really needed to have baby Jesus in a nativity play. And it is difficult, in these days, to see how peace is being played out. We live in times where people are too easily labelled in ways that they don’t deserve. A horrific terrorist act deserves all the condemnation it gets, but that should never include the condemning of a whole faith the vast, vast majority of whose followers would be equally condemnatory of the terrorism. The events in other parts of the world have led, in recent weeks, to the biggest migration that has been seen for a long time. That causes its problems and its issues. But, as has been often said, Jesus himself became a refugee, fleeing to Egypt. Are we ready and willing to rise to the challenge of welcoming the stranger in our midst when God so calls us?
You see, it’s easy to sing or listen to nice Christmas songs, and I invite you to enjoy doing so – but if we are not doing even the little we can to bring about the peace and goodwill and justice of which most such songs speak, even the secular ones, then we are missing out on the true challenge of Christmas which is that God came to this world to love it – but that love requires some changes. The Christmas story is of God’s loving coming in to the world. That’s what we celebrate. That’s what we are called to reflect. That’s what can make a difference to the world in which we live.