The photographs above are from a previous winter - we are enjoying mild and dull weather at the moment in the UK, and we are not dreaming of a white Christmas either! Many of the traditions associated with Christmas in the UK seem to have arisen in the Victorian 19th century when the winters were cold and seasonal fare was one way of keeping warm!
As I write we are on the brink of celebrating Christmas Day. For Christians it is the commemoration of the birth of a very extraordinary man. For others in the West it is the celebration of the happiness and joy associated with Christian hope and as such should not be condemned as mere consumerism. Everyone longs for there to be real joy in their hearts because life in the world of today is as hard as it has ever been. So who was this extraordinary man who arouses such hope?
The birth stories in Matthew and Luke are one way of answering that question. As Luke narrates the message of angels to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus,
“Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
Jesus was the one who had come to fulfil the hopes of Israel, his mother country. Captive under the rule of Rome the Jewish nation had in its long history become the chosen of Yahweh who, they believed, would one day make them, and Jerusalem its capital city, the centre of the world - 'all nations shall bow down before him.'
Jesus, in his short life, revealed a wider hope. Through his teaching, calling of disciples and healing the sick God was now visiting his people and under his rule of love all humankind would share equally in the joy of a life in relationship with the maker of all.
St Paul called this relationship a new life in the friendship of Jesus. So the birth of this man was the revelation of what God is like. We may feel free to decorate the birth as Luke and Matthew did, with angels and archangels and magi - they were making the point as the Christian journalists of their day, for they belonged to Christian communities who owed their whole life to the life of this remarkable man. They said that he lived among them, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, as he does today among us all.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!