The word ‘Christmas’ is appearing less and less in countries where people think the word imposes a private belief on another person who may not share the belief.

So, instead of saying ‘Happy Christmas’ many prefer to say, ‘Happy Festive Season’. This latter greeting avoids mention of why one should be happy. It implies that it is good to have a time to relax, meet family and friends and celebrate with food and drink. That itself is sufficient.

People who are inclined that way have a good reason. Why wish someone a Happy Christmas if you do not know what Christmas is? It is more honest to simply wish them a happy time and leave it at that. Maybe our world is becoming more honest, more sincere? And maybe it is teaching us too to be more honest about our faith? Yesterday, I was given a link to Oxford where a group of people put on a concert as a way of expressing their gratitude to the teams of researchers who had come up with the vaccine against Covid. This will save lives and open up the economy and restore the conviviality people have missed since March.

But what kind of concert was it? It was a deeply religious one in which all the pieces expressed sentiments and desires Christian people associate with Christmas. One piece was specially written for the occasion; a carol for St Joseph composed by John Rutter. If you google him you will hear his advice, ‘Compose what is in your heart’. Don’t try to be ‘in fashion’ or worry ‘what will people think’. I take him to mean, ‘listen to your inmost self’. Thirty seconds with a violinist playing your music, he says, is worth more than three years of seminars.

People today are trying to be authentic, true to themselves. They would say; use the word ‘Christmas’ if you mean it and it comes from your heart. Otherwise use some other word. Jesus came to expose our hearts: is there truth hiding there trying to come out? Or is there hardness which bears fruit in hypocrisy: I present myself as good and caring but, at base, I am driven by desires for money and status.

I am always moved by the weakness of Jesus, the fragility of his circumstances. Like a migrant, he is born far from home and then his parents have to hurriedly flee with him out of the country. And in his adult life he has no great strategy, no five-year plan. He reaches out to people one at a time; a woman at a well, a tax-collector at his desk. He just wants them to look into their heart and see what is there.  Time and time again he unlocked something in the human heart – one person at a time.

That was all a long time ago. Then he could only reach a few people in a few places over a few years. But he began a community and lives in that community which carries on his work – in every age and every continent. We are part of that community today, still trying each day to allow him to unlock out hearts and let ourselves be loved.

Christmas Day 2020               Is 9:1-6            Titus 2: 11-14              Luke 2: 1-14

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