We often refer to Christ’s coming at Christmas in terms of gifts. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. Unbidden and unsought, Christ comes to earth to reveal what God is like in a way that eludes human reason. The Christian story is something no one could have made up as a recipe for a restored relationship with God. But gift and the allied term grace are what it is all about.
The immediate world of the new-born Jesus was a complicated one. The nativity is anything but simple. There is risk to the magi which they are warned about in a dream. There’s risk to Mary as a girl relying on the care and support of Joseph, who may just have easily reported her to the Jewish authorities for being pregnant out of wedlock. Getting somewhere to stay in Bethlehem wasn’t simple, and neither must it have been a risk-free and simple task to give birth and then play host to some shepherds in a space reserved for cattle. It must have been very wearying to the Holy family – and that’s before they then have to escape to Egypt…
The great thing is, that at this first Christmas, and also for us so many years later, God comes to us, even in our weariness, our weakness and no matter how complicated our lives seem. God doesn’t wait for us to have our lives in balance, or for us to be rested or ‘sorted’, before we are allowed to encounter him. We may never feel ‘ready for God’ but that doesn’t mean God cannot come to us.
This Christmas we may be acutely aware of life’s intractable problems. How on earth are we to solve the climate crisis, the economic crisis, the international relations crisis brought on by war. All these problems seem unsolvable given normal patterns of human behaviour. How can a baby born in the backwater of an ancient empire 2000 years ago have anything to say about any of them?
But the gift of Jesus is simple without being simplistic. The heart of most problems is the problem of the human heart. Jesus offers us the gift that meets the needs we seek to fill with rapacious consumption. He offers the security that frees us to love. He offers us the peace that in trust releases generosity. He offers the forgiveness that releases us from defensiveness and self-justification. The Gospel is good news because it meets the deepest needs of the human heart. This is where the real transformation of individuals and society is to be found.
In our Christmas celebrations this year, let us hear again the familiar story of a God who met his creation amidst its difficulty and fatigue. Let us trust that God can, and will, meet us as well. Let us ask him to bring us the same peace amidst the chaos that we picture in our Nativity scenes. Let us ask him for the gift of simple faith and Godly presence amidst the complexities of our lives.