I AM hopeless at shopping and always do it last-minute. So when I paid the attendant in the car park I could really wish him a Happy Christmas. “Wrong religion, mate! I’m a pagan”, he said.
Christian faith is not the universal option nowadays. We rightly respect the values brought by many different religions. But the Christmas story can still draw us even if this is the only time we find ourselves in church.
This is actually because it is anything but normal; it is full of the unusual.
First to receive the message are out-of-town characters, the shepherds. Next come wisdom-seekers from a far-off country not the experts in Jerusalem itself. And at the centre of these events is Mary and Joseph, struggling to understood God and their relationship, when she becomes pregnant in mysterious circumstances.
That, importantly, is where the story of Jesus’ birth is unusual, but not unreal. Imagine the shock of any young couple when their lives are turned upside down and the sheer discomfort of their journeys and living quarters. The bigger picture is an unfair world. The country is occupied by the Roman army. Under them is Herod who rules by fear. At the bottom are ordinary people caught up in schemes that others have made.
We can see the same things happening today. And yet the message is of hope precisely for ordinary people in an upside-down world.
It’s in the muddle that God can work miracles. For us, it’s a challenge to faith, an instinct beyond the one we use for day-to-day problems.
Christmas invites us to see the world with clear eyes, but as St. John (3:16) says, to believe in our hearts it is this world “God so loved, as to send his only Son”.