How can we celebrate the birth of Christ in the middle of the humanitarian disaster tragically unfolding in Aleppo, Syria? Where is the peace and good-will to all people that the angels joyfully announced to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus Christ in a week when twelve people are ruthlessly and deliberately killed and forty-nine injured while enjoying some partying in Berlin?
Yet it is more important than ever that we celebrate the birth of Christ in the face of distress and disaster because the whole point of the celebration is that God was not born into a world where all was sweetness and light, but where evil and darkness appeared to have the upper hand. God did not choose the easy option. The birth of Jesus Christ shows the depth of God’s love for all of humanity…….not for some of humanity but for all of humanity. There was as much cruelty, injustice, self-centredness and disregard for others then, as there is now.
In celebrating the birth of Christ, we are also invited and empowered to join with God in showing his love to the world. We all have a part to play.
In her wonderful poem ‘Christ and Common Birth,’ Anne Ridler (1912-2001) reflects on the new birth being celebrated at Christmas happening in the mid-winter where there is little evidence of new life and birth in nature:
So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
to force the glory into frozen veins.
She also reminds readers:
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
She concludes her poem:
Our common birth is holy, birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.
Anne Ridler in a direct and unsentimental way is taking us to the very heart of Christmas which is that Jesus Christ was born into the reality, mess and injustice of the world (‘at the iron, senseless time’) in order that it may be transformed (‘to force the glory into frozen veins’). God became a human being to show that human beings in partnership with God have the potential to make a difference in and to the world within and around them, whether that be in our family and local community or further afield.
Many centuries ago Athanasius, a renowned Christian thinker,wrote, ‘God became a human in order that that a human being may become God.’ He was pointing to the God-given potential in every person that the birth of Christ affirms. Anne Ridler was saying something similar when she wrote, ‘Our common birth is holy.’
May this Christmas be a time of joy – and may it be an opportunity of realising our God-given potential for the good of God’s world.