We live in a society where we are very conscious that we should be careful of what we say or do in case we cause any offence to anyone. So much so that some fear speaking the truth. Perhaps we have taken this all a bit too far, as many whom we may think we might offend are often not remotely bothered. Christmas is often caught up in this, as every year we can find rather silly examples of local authorities, charities, schools, shops or whoever else, diluting or even doing away entirely with this Christian celebration because of the fear of causing offence. Why should this be? The Christmas story is actually very modern and multicultural. An unmarried mother, homelessness and sleeping rough, foreign visitors, travelling from afar, and then a very modern parable with refugees fleeing persecution seeking shelter in a far-off land. So, what is the problem? Christianity is being more and more marginalised across Europe and, for that matter, persecuted in numerous other regions across the globe. Perhaps it is because the true message of Christmas is indeed offensive to our modern, selfish way of thinking because it demands a response from us. The message of the angels is dynamite, and it would transform our world for the better, if only we’d let it. ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem’. It demands a response. That response is either to acknowledge His lordship over history and to bow down in worship, or it is to judge the claims made of this baby as false and to move on, ignoring Christmas altogether.
However, if anyone is tempted to the latter course of action, they should first examine the life and teachings of who this child grew up to be. I believe His teachings speak so powerfully across the generations right into our lives today. They are still transforming lives for the better and they can transform ours. ‘Love your neighbours as yourselves. Forgive those who sin against you. Don’t hoard wealth, share it with those who have little. Help the stranger, love the outcast, love each other, love God.’ It is actually so simple, but the world thinks it knows best. Yet here is the answer to the world’s many, many problems. Here is God’s answer to the mess we so often make of our own lives. It is a message so alien to the way humanity conducts itself, and God knew that. He knew what we needed, and so he gave it to us; He gave freely of His love, His guidance, His forgiveness and His redemption, clothed in the fragile, yet perfect form of the Christ child. Yes, this message is uncomfortable for many. Much better to gloss over it and hold a winter festival beginning in October or better to elbow out the life-changing message of the Prince of Peace by using the risible excuse that we don’t want to cause offence. What really lies at the heart of these negative responses to Christmas as it’s meant to be is an unwillingness to engage with that simple invitation that God gives us in the person of Christ.
The all-embracing, loving example of Jesus of Nazareth has been causing ‘offence’ for over 2,000 years. Remember King Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Pharisees of Jerusalem, the Roman Empire and we still see such violent reactions across the globe today. All have been offended by the teachings of Christ and by his followers’ devotion, and as we enjoy our celebrations, let us spare a thought for our persecuted brothers and sisters who face danger and death simply for loving God. Jesus Christ has been resisted in every century, with violence, contempt and, as we see in our so-called sophisticated modern society, through marginalisation, prompted by not wanting to face up to the challenge He presents as to how we should live our lives. Yet the light which first shone from Bethlehem’s stable will never be extinguished. It continues to shine all around our world, usually at its brightest when facing the greatest resistance. Why do so many fight it? The gracious invitation is for us all. ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to all people.’ Christ, the saviour of the world came to bring you light and hope and peace. What is your response to be?
May God bless you this Christmas and in the year ahead