I’d like to wish all of my readers a Happy Christmas but does this mean that I’m deluding myself. To get caught up in a celebration about peace and joy may feel like a little trip into escapism. We talk about hope but there doesn’t appear to be much of that around.
This year started as the one when we were meant to be building back better after two years of pandemic and lockdowns. 2021 had finished with the Omicron variant showing up and rattling everyone as it seemed to be able to evade vaccines enough to cause a huge spike in the number of COVID cases.
We got through that with some restrictions and then as it became clearer that the variant might be more transmittable but seemingly less deadly, we breathed a sigh of relief. We could, so it seemed begin to live with the virus. So, we could look forward to happier, more prosperous and peaceful times ahead.
Yet, if that’s what we were looking for in 2022, then the year has disappointed somewhat. Here in the UK we’ve been hit by economic fragility and a cost of living crisis. Fuel bills have increased exponentially meaning that a cold snap doesn’t mean that we can automatically crank up the heating. We are feeling the shock waves of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine here and his nuclear posturing generates fear. There’s been political chaos too with three Prime Ministers in the space of a few months and the death of Queen Elizabeth II feels like the end of an era of stability to many.
For many of us these things and other factors mean it will have been a tough year personally and for our families. In November as we began to make plans for Christmas we were hit by a triple whammy of pain. First there was the sudden and shocking news that my Father in Law had been taken ill and died whilst paramedics attempted to resuscitate him, then whilst our attention was focused on family in the South of England came the second hammer blow my mum was in ICU up in Bradford, she too would die within two weeks. Whilst I was up there some chancers decided to attempt a break in, fortunately only to the shed and they left empty handed presumably deciding there was nothing worth nicking but still causing damage and leaving us with the feeling that our privacy had been violated, our home attacked.
So, when I turn my eyes to Christmas, am I just looking to escape from reality for a bit. It often seems that Christmas is presented like that too us, even by, especially by its advocates. We can switch off from the harsh realities of the world and enjoy presents music, food and a little religious sentimentality.
However, I want to insist that Christmas isn’t about escape from reality. The message of Christmas is not an invitation to us to withdraw from the harshness of this world. Rather, it’s the story of how God himself, in the person of Jesus, stepped down into the harsh reality of our fallen world. In Christ, God came to live among us. He chose a time in history of political upheaval and danger and a place that would bring him close to the downtrodden and suffering.
Christmas isn’t an escape from reality it is the reality. Yes, this world is fallen, yes there is great evil to face but we are not without hope because God has acted to save because God draws close to us. Christmas is the reality because the answer to the wars,, troubles and suffering of this world is the eternal peace that only Christ can bring.