Have you ever wondered whether Jesus celebrated his birthday each year, whether, as he grew “in age and grace and wisdom”, he counted down the years and celebrated the timing and circumstances of his birth? We’ll never know the answer to that, and it doesn’t really matter, but what is fascinating is the fact that a huge proportion of the world, with thousands of different combinations, still celebrate the birth of a baby born to a young couple 2,000 years ago.
If it wasn’t for the birth of Jesus, many of us might never really bother to gather in family groups, share gifts, and eat together. It sounds Christmas-card-picture-perfect, but we know that’s not always the case. Proximity to siblings and other family members sometimes brings out memories and issues that distance keeps at bay. Unless we are careful, tensions and relationship frictions that ordinarily simmer beneath the surface can erupt and make a mockery of ‘merry Christmas’ and ‘peace on earth’.
On the increasingly rare occasions that call for a family gathering we who are older are conscious of gaps. Not just the cousins who don’t keep in touch any more or the uncle who has given this branch of the family the flick for some mysterious and personal reason, but the loved grandparents and uncles and aunts who used to man the barbecue, bring the pavs and trademark salads, keep an eye on the peace. They’re gone, many of them quite young, and we miss them. They’ll be an unseen presence at your Christmas lunch or dinner too – the ones who don’t want to come and the ones who are no longer with us.
We live in a dysfunctional world and we are all born into families that have their own share of dysfunctionality. To read Jesus’s genealogy as it is found in Matthew, is like looking back over our own family trees or watching an episode of Who Do You Think You Are. There were lots of less than saintly characters in Jesus’ lineage. The majority were poor and insignificant, some talented, some like King David were famous, the rest a pretty motley bunch. Raymond Brown, a famous Scripture scholar, said that God writes straight with crooked lines.
There were lots of crooked lines in the world Jesus was born into and nothing has changed much. Every Christmas celebration, whether it is big or intimate, a cold weather feast or a seafood spread on the patio, is back lit by concerns about global warming, on-going tensions in Syria and Pakistan, the fear of bushfires again this year and worrying newspaper reports that too many of our children are being deprived of the childhood that they are entitled to.
Occasionally I read an impassioned plea by someone urging us to “put Christ back into Christmas”. But isn’t that where Jesus already is – in the efforts people make for peace, in families that try to live in harmony, in compassion for the disadvantaged?
Certainly not everybody is familiar with the scriptural accounts of the birth of Jesus or recognises his ongoing presence in our world, but still they and we celebrate him with every Merry Christmas greeting and a display of cards that wish the recipient peace.
May that peace ripple through your Christmas preparations and into the season ahead.