Have you noticed there seems to be a new Christmas animal in the shops every year? I remember when there were Christmas owls everywhere. Last year it was Christmas llamas. Now there seems to be a lot of Christmas sloths in the shops, like someone in a marketing meeting somewhere rolled the dice and decided, this year, it’s sloths. So now we have Christmas sloths.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I like a cuddly animal in a Santa hat as much as the next person, and I suppose it makes as much sense as all the other things we traditionally associate with the festive season. Christmas has become about shopping, presents, Santa Claus, holly, red robins, twinkling trees, eating with our families, TV specials and so many more things.
For Christians, Christmas is about the nativity – the story of the birth of Jesus. However, Jesus didn’t come into the world to say that we should buy more stuff and feast every 25 December. Although it’s a nice place to start, he didn’t even say we should only be nice to our family members at Christmas. He certainly wasn’t arrested, tried, and crucified for that. He was calling for a completely different world.
He said that we should love everyone all year round – even people who aren’t that easy to love – because God loves them too. He said, if we love everyone, then we should give help to those who need it. He said the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus’ message is something that could turn the world upside down.
We can see this right at the beginning in the nativity story. Jesus’ birth is predicted by the stars as the birth of a great king. In fact, he was born to a normal family in unassuming circumstances, far away from their home. They were outsiders who fled and found refuge in Egypt when the local government threatened their lives.
The three wise men also came from the outside, travelling from another country with different beliefs and customs, and were welcomed in.
It’s the shepherds who are the first to see Jesus – possibly outcasts, living on the outskirts of town, working in the fields, bathing rarely and looking after smelly animals all day. They were the sort of people you might not want at your Christmas party but, arguably, they were one of the first of Jesus’ followers. They were the first Christians.
So, in today’s busy, confusing, demanding society, what can we do to keep the message of Christ’s birth at the centre of Christmas?
One easy way to do this is to go to your local church where they’ll be running Christmas services. You could go along, sing some hymns and hear the story of the nativity. It could be a nice opportunity to relax in a busy time. If you’re new to church and feel like staying, I hope you’ll find a friendly community there. Speaking from experience, if you want to start loving people you wouldn’t normally know, church is a great place to practise.
For many, Christmas is about coming together with family and friends, but for others it can be a pretty lonely time. Family and friends may not be around, it may be difficult to leave the house, or people may become isolated for another reason. We can keep Jesus at the heart of the season by looking out for these people in our communities. Is there a spare seat at your Christmas dinner table that you could offer up? Could you invite someone to a social event or church service? Even popping round with a packet of biscuits, or posting a Christmas card through the letterbox, could be enough to brighten someone’s day. Some connection can be a huge help.
Another idea could be to offer your time as a volunteer for a good cause in your community. Especially in the colder months, foodbanks, shelters and refuges provide a lifeline for many, and these organisations often need a helping hand (or two). You could get in touch with your local CAP centre to see if they need help delivering food hampers to clients throughout December. The act of helping others is a great way to follow Jesus’ lead, and it’s scientifically proven to make us feel better in ourselves as well.
Maybe you’re already rushed off your feet and simply don’t have the time to volunteer, but could support a charity with a donation this Christmas. Have a clear out and gather some things to take to a charity shop or your local foodbank – clothes, books, DVDs and even furniture in decent nick may be a blessing. Or perhaps you could support CAP’s debt crisis appeal and help make sure a family won’t have to face another Christmas in debt – find out more here.
No matter how you spend it, we at CAP hope you find joy, peace and rest this Christmas time.