If you asked any of my family, they’d say I’m a bit of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas. When my daughters were younger I loved it. Sharing their joy and expectation. The advent calendar being robbed each day. The yearly visits to Santa. The Panto. The Christmas Day service at church. But now I find it all a bit overwhelming. Too much of everything! So much preparation needed for one day of celebration.
I was born and brought up in a completely different culture. In Lebanon, the celebration of Christmas was a lot more sedate. The large Christian community, made up of many different historical churches as well as the protestant newcomers, made for a very interesting and enjoyable festival. Even the majority of our Muslim neighbours and friends would celebrate Christmas. One great advantage was that we celebrated Christmas twice every year; the Western and Eastern dates. This meant we stopped school on 24th December, restarting after the New Year, and then had another holiday for the Eastern Christmas early in January. Great! Can you imagine as a child having two Christmases every year?!
We used branches from pine trees as substitutes for Christmas trees – very hard to keep upright and not very beautiful compared to our properly-grown conifers. Dates piled high on market stalls beside the roads. Visiting each other to give Christmas greetings was a very important part of the ritual. You never knew when someone would visit, you had to be ready at any time. But you had a strong sense of belonging to a community.
Working for Global Care, I often find the excess of Christmas unsettling. Having visited so many of the projects we support, in some very poor countries, at Christmas I find myself imagining families living on a rubbish dump, in a shack, or just in rural poverty, trying to celebrate with the very little they have. Most of the children we support are considered vulnerable even within their already poor communities, so have even less to look forward to at Christmas. In fact being away from school, where they often have access to extra feeding and a safe place to learn and play, can present extra challenges. This year, as Covid 19 decimates so much of the world’s economy, the challenges of vulnerable communities around the world are even more pronounced, and I approach Christmas with even more ambivalence.
But as we prepare for this year’s celebration our family is also struggling with loss. My wife’s sister died recently and we are in mourning with her husband and children in the approach to Christmas. We miss Irene terribly. She was so much part of our past Christmases but will not be with us this year. How can we celebrate when we are so sad?
So this year’s Christmas finds me in an even more confused state than normal: A natural scrooge, trying to celebrate at a time of sadness.
But Christmas is important; because it is when we remember the coming of the One for whom so many had been waiting, for so long, with such longing.
His coming was talked about for generations – Zachariah the father of John the Baptist, talking just before Jesus was born, said: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1 vs 78-79)
So this Christmas, as we as a family sit in the shadow of the death, we can still approach Christmas Day with a sense of hope and excitement about the light from heaven which broke through 2,000 years ago. The hope, peace, love and joy that can follow for all who believe. Jesus went on to carry out such a great act of liberation and salvation that it reverberates around the world today. A baby who broke into our world like light breaking onto those who sit in darkness.
Now that is something worth celebrating!
So this sad Scrooge will be raising a glass and celebrating this Christmas, because of what God has done for us in Jesus.
Happy Christmas to you all.
John White, CEO