Advent 3, Year A
What we really need at Christmas
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Each year I find more and more that the biggest problem most of us have with our Christmas shopping, aside from finding time to do it, is that most of the people we shop for already have everything they need. Last Friday I was in Ashbourne when the shops were open late. The atmosphere was wonderful, with the lights, the stalls selling soup, coffee, and Christmas gifts, the jazz band playing. But I walked up and down the main shopping area several times looking in vain for a present for my brother and his family which I could be sure would both be appreciated and not duplicate something that they had already.
We can imagine the scene in an average household on Christmas morning, when all the expensively wrapped gifts have been opened and the room looks like an explosion in a paper-goods factory. It is rather obvious that a typical British family has a surfeit of possessions. Such families have helped to keep our economy on an upward path, as well as helping the economies of countries like China which are now selling more and more to us. Many families, however, end up cluttering their households with things that simply end up - when a suitable length of time has passed - at next year’s church or school fair, or at a summer car boot sale. We can easily find that our homes are simply too overladen for living. We dread moving house, because of the need to sort out all the stuff we’ve accumulated.
There are, of course, people in Britain who are still very poor. For the most part, though, we benefit from a level of prosperity unseen before in human history on such a wide scale. But even though most people today, at least in this country, are very well-off, there are still things we need – and perhaps things that we need all the more precisely because we have so much. So what do we really need this Christmas?
We need more time, time for sorting out our lives, time for being with those who are close to us, time for getting to know those around us better.
We need what we might call holy time, an awareness of the deeper dimensions of life, and an openness to the eternal mysteries that lie behind our fleeting earthly existence. We need time to get to know God, who gives our lives meaning and purpose, and who shows us the way to live.
We need space for seeing life as it is, for realising how shallow life is when it is lived merely for the pleasure of the moment without any regard to the future. Space for standing back and looking at our lives, so that, like Scrooge when the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present and Christmas Future gave him the chance to review his life, we too will have a chance to mend our ways, and to make changes in our lives when this is what God wants us to do. And we need space for seeing the millions of people in the world who are dying of hunger or disease, and for allowing ourselves to respond with compassion rather than walking by on the other side.
Most all, we need to know Christ afresh, and for him to give new direction to our lives. We need to hear and receive anew the true message of Christmas, that God has entered the world to dwell with us, that His power and love are consequently here and available to us now, that we are not alone in a world which has no creator and no purpose. We need to know that all our days are spent in the presence of the God who poured all that He was and is and will be into the child born in the manger of Bethlehem. And so we need to give our lives to Christ, who is the real Gift of Christmas, and who should so overshadow all others as to be the only true gift.
That is the way it ought to be for us at Christmas. More and more of us today seem to have become lost in the busyness of our existence, trying to deal with all the pressures which we face, and forgetting the real purpose of our lives here on earth – which is to love God and to serve him with our heart and mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. When we remember this, we, who thought we had everything, realise we have nothing. When we realise we have nothing, we are able to receive everything from the God who is the true source of our joy and peace.
In all the frenzy and noise of the season, O God, help us to find our way home; and, having found it, let us never lose it. Through Christ, who was born to show us the way. Amen.
Christmas Spoke Here
Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1989, p. 88
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