Canon J. John: How to Keep the Christmas Spirit Alive
Canon J. John
Christmas promises a lot. Looking forward to the season, our imaginations paint a vivid and inviting picture for us. A powerful cocktail made up of nostalgia and advertisements conjures up a captivating scene, where loved ones gather, fires glow brightly, tables creak under the load of food, lights twinkle, and the only sounds are of laughter and merriment. It is a blissful scene where grievances, bank balances and family problems are forgotten and from which all worry and unforgiveness have been banished. This image is often summed up in the phrase ‘the Christmas Spirit’.
May we all enjoy such scenes this year. And yet, in truth, the season itself rarely delivers what it promises: someone is sick, an unexpected bill arrives amidst the Christmas cards, the Internet is down and a relative is furious because they weren’t invited for Christmas. The problem with the Christmas Spirit is that, like many intoxicating substances, it evaporates.
There is a Christmas Spirit with a lasting effect but there are three conditions to keeping it.
First, we need to remember that Christmas is about giving. Dig beneath the tinsel of tradition, listen beyond the noise and babble of the season, and you will find that Christmas is about God’s gift to us. He gave us himself in Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrate, that we might be forgiven and brought back to him. Christmas ultimately is about God’s gift to us. And that great Bible verse, John 3:16, reminds us that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. Yet to receive God’s giving comes with a responsibility: to take it in, we must also give it out. Christmas is a time for open hearts, open houses and open wallets. It is a season when we put others first. Jesus himself reminds us that it is ‘more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). The rejected opportunity to give is a lost opportunity to receive. In his depiction of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens managed to show someone who, through a better understanding of Christmas, came to find giving to be far more rewarding than taking. You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.
Second, Christmas is about forgiving. One of the most celebrated stories of the First World War is of the tragically short-lived truce that broke out on December 25th 1914. Because the coming of Jesus is all about God delivering us from all we have done wrong, Christmas is God’s offer of a lasting peace to us all. If we are to accept God’s gift we must understand that it is a peace that comes with obligations. To understand what it is to be truly forgiven is to practise forgiveness towards others. Nothing destroys the Christmas Spirit more than the bitter flavour of unforgiven grudges and hurts. This Christmas don’t just give, but forgive.
Third, Christmas is about living. To seek the festivities of Christmas and miss the message is to keep the wrapping and throw away the gift. Christmas is about life. Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). To understand Christmas and all that it really means is to receive God’s gift of a joy that lasts, not just for a few days, but for ever.
To keep the true Christmas Spirit, we need to find the one who gives it. This season, give, forgive and live.
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