Love Jesus, Hate Christmas?

In some churches, when the congregation is happy about what the speaker is saying, they shout out things like “Amen!” or “Preach it!” In other places, the folks might be a little more subdued than that and opt instead to show their agreement with a hearty “Pentecostal nod”. I call this the “Nodometre”. Interestingly, the greatest ever reading I received on the Nodometre was something I said quite off the cuff at a Carol Service: “Some people love Jesus, but they hate Christmas, and that’s okay”. Suddenly, large numbers in the room nodded. I wonder if you are nodding too.

Some believers, especially those who love worship and the moving of the Holy Spirit, find Christmas services quite frustrating sometimes. In the autumn of 2002 we had an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit in our church. The divine presence filled our building with services that extended way into the afternoons, as men and women sought the face of God with many tears. Then Christmas arrived: three weeks of mince pies, recycled paper hats and Good King Wenceslas. We tried to come back to super-normal in early January but the fire had somehow moved on. There’s nothing like Christmas for killing a revival!

But for many members in our churches, Christmas is an annual endurance. While others around them seem to be celebrating and filled with joy, their loneliness, depression, isolation, or lack of money is heightened all the more. They love Jesus but they definitely don’t love Christmas. For them, it can be yet another year when Santa can’t afford to bring all that is required; yet another year of being single, or of remembering a lost loved one; yet another Christmas Day spent with challenging in-laws. Dare we say it? Yet another year of the sound of shouting and fighting in the house; of a marriage put under social and financial strain.

For any who may feel like this, it may be some comfort to think about the first Christmas, and the first Christmas family, who didn’t have much fun that year either. After a sixty mile journey on a donkey, they were a new family with no money, a baby on the way and nowhere to live. For Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus was as far removed from a “silent night” as you could imagine. They would have loved for “three ships to come sailing in”, but they certainly didn’t.

But while Christmas Day for Mary and Joseph was a struggle, it is untrue to say that they had nothing to be thankful for. First of all they were enjoying the small kindness of the innkeeper. No Five Star apartment for these King’s kids (and why couldn’t God have sent the Wise Man with the gold along before they there were looking for a hotel? Now that is bad timing!), but they weren’t out on the street either. The presents sat around your Christmas tree may not compare with those at Buckingham or Beckham’s Palace, but google your salary and you may find that you are still among the world’s richest families. God does not leave us with nothing; not ever.

Secondly, Mary and Joseph had each other. Now to risk offending all the romantics, this wasn’t the perfect weekend break in Bethlehem. Don’t you think that while Mary was giving birth to Jesus that she might have cried out for her Mum rather than her novice and potentially bumbling husband? Joseph could deliver a wooden table and chairs to perfection but he wasn’t a nurse! It can be the same for us. We may not be spending Christmas with those that we have on our dream list, but God always gives us someone. People are always the greatest gift from heaven. Someone might win a million pounds from Chris Tarrant on Christmas TV this year but it won’t move us. But have the same TV company screen the coming together of two sisters who have been searching for each other for twenty years and the nation’s living rooms will be flooded with tears. Let’s value what is valuable. Don’t stay in by yourself. Accept that invite for dinner, even if it’s not quite what you would have planned for yourself. People are the gift that God will send you.

And finally, Mary and Joseph had Jesus. Although only a baby, the Lord was with them – with them in their poverty and challenge; with them in their isolation and fear. He is Emmanuel, the God who is with all of us. Today’s Christmas cards usually show Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms. And if we had caught the image on camera, it may well have looked something like that. But Mary was a mother made by her own child. While it looked like she was holding Him, in fact He was holding her. And Emmanuel is holding and caring for you. The reason for the season is the presence of the King. Whether parties or loneliness awaits you, take time to put down your cracker and lay your paper hat at his feet. You can hate Christmas but still love Jesus. God rest ye merry loved-one, let nothing you dismay.

JOY Magazine, December 2007

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