Christmas 2020

Last Christmas, the one that seems a lifetime ago now, some of us were carol singing outside – and a man solemnly walked past us carrying a placard. The placard said, ‘Jesus was not born on December 25th’.

I have been wondering since quite what his problem was. It’s hard to think that he had a really principled objection to the date on which we celebrate Christmas. It’s hard to imagine that, if asked, he might have told us that Jesus was actually born on a different date – April the 30th or November the 10th… We all know that we don’t know what date Jesus was born on – don’t we? We don’t even actually know what year it was, to be honest. And I think we all know that December 25th has only become the day because Christians took over the date of the old Winter solstice in the Roman calendar. It somehow fitted (in the Northern hemisphere at least) to celebrate the coming of the light into the world at a time when the days were just beginning to get longer. So, pretty much no-one thinks that Joseph and Mary put December 25th on a birth certificate of their new baby.  It’s just that by about the fourth century (so you notice it took a few hundred years) everyone had decided to celebrate the feast of Jesus’ birth on December 25th.  So I think we can all agree with the man with the placard that Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th (though it’s as like a date as any) – but we might not think that really matters very much. It’s hard to see what there is to protest about.

It could be of course that he had a different kind of problem. It could be that his protest is about what Christmas has become: too much eating, drinking, spending money – and all for a day that wasn’t even really his birthday. And if that’s what he was thinking, he would have quite a few Christians from history on his side. There was a time when Christians like the ones who founded this church would have protested about the Christmas celebrations. They disapproved of the rather over the top twelve days of gluttony and drunkenness that Christmas had become. They said that there was nothing in the Bible about celebrating Christmas and they thought it would be better to have a productive day at work instead. Perhaps that was our placard carrier was trying to say.

But there is another thing that he might have meant. Perhaps his objection was not so much with the date. It may be that the man with the placard wanted to say that Jesus wasn’t exactly born on December 25th, as though he wasn’t around on December 24th, because Jesus was there from ‘the beginning’, there at Creation with God, being God, and that all things came into being through him. As one of our carols says, he was ‘Of the Father’s love begotten’ (not born). As the creed puts it he was ‘begotten not made, of one Being with the Father’. We say so often at Christmas that we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we do, but we celebrate the birth among us of God, the presence of the one who has no birth or beginning, who is eternal, the unmade maker, the ground of all Being, the mystery that is God. This is what the Gospel of John tells us, this is what the reading we read this day witnesses to. So what we celebrate today is the coming into the world (in real time and in a real place, in an actual person) the presence of the one who was and is and always will be, God, one who has always been there, before December, before January, before anyone was around to devise a calendar or to name the months, days and years. In Jesus, the one who has always been, who has no beginning and no end, who is alpha and omega, came into the world. But he was never not in the world. And he has never left the world. But of course, writing that on a placard, would be tricky….

Right now we are living through a time when our lives are marked by ever-changing rules about what we can and can’t do; tiers from 1-4, lockdowns, bubbles, you name it… And we’ve lived through a time like no other we have known. Christmas day is a day that feels like no other day (to me) – and I think that’s because it’s a day when we glimpse the truth that is unaffected by time, the truth that is eternal – that God is with us, no matter what, and always, in every day. Today, the eternal world, that is unchanged by the passing modes of history, breaks in and we feel it…

I’m a big fan of the Christmas song by Wizzard – you will know it.

Well I wish it could be Christmas every day.
When the kids start singing and the band begins to play.
Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day.
Let the bells ring out for Christmas.

The beginning of John’s Gospel tells us that it is Christmas every day, that it has always been Christmas since the beginning of creation – that Jesus was not only born on December 25th, but was there ‘in the beginning’ and will be when all things are fulfilled. The eternal is at our door and always has been and always will be.

December 25th is the day we choose to remember this – but the truth of Christmas is true every day and any day. Every day is holy. So instead of saying that Jesus was not born on December 25th, I’m going to say, on December 25th, God is with us, always! Thank God. Happy days….