I wonder what your image of an ideal Christmas would look like? It probably involves snow falling on a crisp night, and a family gathered by a decorated tree surrounded with beautifully wrapped parcels, wide-eyed children caught up in the wonder of the idea of reindeer pulling an enticingly laden sleigh across the star lit skies.
Sometimes it is said, “Christmas is for the children”. And that’s understandable with so much invested in in the run up to December 25th with blockbuster seasonal films, weeks of advertising for the latest toys and gadgets - and a perception that the ‘Jesus bit’ isn’t really for us once we’ve outgrown the infant school nativity play.
There is, of course, a baby at the heart of the Christmas story. But it is not a story only for babies.
I like the hidden narratives of that first Christmas, the stories of those on the sidelines, like Joseph, who tradition has it was an older man. He reminds us that God works through those that history might overlook.
It is Mary who is usually given most attention as the mother of Jesus in the Christmas story. But I like to think of Joseph, her husband. Joseph demonstrated remarkable adaptability, quiet strength, and generous, brave practicality in his faithfulness to God. God chose the aged Joseph, as much as He chose the youthful Mary, to share responsibility for Jesus. (His Christmas story can be found in the first two chapters of Mathew’s Gospel in the New Testament of the Bible, if you want to read more.) Joseph’s story can remind us that, though our society might idolise youth, and power, and those who capture the limelight, God honours those who feel marginalised and ignored.
I am fortunate that we have many happy memories of Christmas when our children were young. The best ones include the years that we were able to share our celebrations, not only with our own family, but also with those who would otherwise be alone. While they were alive that included our own grandparents and great grandparents. But some years that meant spending an hour or so after church on Christmas morning helping to deliver a hot meal and a gift to those who would otherwise have spent the day isolated and overlooked (and, as much as the food was appreciated, it was the company that was most valued, it seemed). Other years that meant welcoming one or two neighbours into our own home. And a couple of years it meant preparing and eating our Christmas lunch in the church hall because we gathered so many who didn’t want to be on their own we couldn’t fit in our house.
The popular image of what Christmas is about can generate loneliness and difficulty for those who are isolated, including those who are old. But the story at the heart of Christmas tells of God’s remarkable love, drawing us all into its warmth and light. In the face of the infant Jesus we see God’s welcome to each one of us, young and old, rich and poor, those with status and the excluded. Each one of us is precious to God.
I hope this Christmas, whatever your circumstances, you have the chance to receive, and give, something of God’s loving welcome.
The Rt Revd Libby Lane
Bishop of Stockport
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