How many of you have ever had a snow globe? It’s a lovely miniature Christmas scene inside a glass casing. You shake it and it looks as if it is beginning to snow. It makes for a very pretty winter decoration and plenty of people bring them out at this time of year. But come January it is usually packed away with the other decorations and spends most of the year languishing in the loft or at the back of a cupboard.
I worry that so often as churches the message we present at Christmas is rather like a scene from a snow globe. We focus on the little details, such as the shepherds, the manger and the wise men, and add details from popular tradition such as the donkey or the innkeeper. What we produce is a beautiful telling of the first Christmas but we never really explain why the story is important or how should it impact us all the year through.
In fact the Christmas story was never meant to be told in isolation, as if we could somehow detach it from the rest of the gospel story. I believe it is important to respect the design and purpose of each gospel writer to see why they tell the nativity in the way that they do (or in the case of Mark omit it all together). And beyond that, it is also good to put the Christmas story into the context of the whole narrative of the Bible. For the Christmas story does not start with an angel appearing to Mary, or Joseph having a dream. It is rooted both in God’s purposes to create the world and to choose a covenant people for Himself.
And when we have this bigger picture of Christmas, we avoid turning the familiar story into a cosy scene which may be very pretty but has little relevance once the year turns and we return to our daily routines. That’s why this year in my preaching my aim is to show the real significance of those events two thousand years ago.
On Christmas Eve we will be considering how the nativity shows God intervening in human history, fulfilling the promises of the Old Testament and bringing us good news.
On Christmas Day, as we look at the prologue to John’s gospel we will be seeing how we have grounds of faith through the witness of creation, the witness of the prophets, and the gift of Jesus Christ.
On the Sunday after Christmas we will be considering how the word became flesh and what it means for us, and how we need the gift of the Holy Spirit to make the Christmas story our story.
There is so much more in the Christmas story than we often realise, and I hope you are excited by the bigger picture. Because if the claims of the gospel writers are true, then we need to focus in our celebrations on those claims, not on the little details. We have a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. Let’s not lose sight of that one astonishing fact beneath all the Christmas trappings, and let’s rejoice this is still good news today.
Happy Christmas to everyone!