Have you ever stopped to think about it – what if there had never been a first Christmas? What might our world have looked like? What difference would it have made if Jesus had never been born?
You might start with removing the gifts, then the lights, followed by the tree and the tinsel… Then perhaps you take away the Christmas services and the carols, the great music, countless nativities, the food… You drop the story of Christmas itself… Suddenly Christmas is gone, it looks like any other day… Groundhog day… But all of that would only be the very surface of it as Christmas goes to the very heart of what it means to be human, to love, to have compassion, to be free…
Today in the West it’s topical to diss Christianity as an outmoded relic of a uneducated and unscientific people, a necessary prop to help people live in a world when they didn’t understand and couldn’t comprehend. But now it’s different, we know the science, we have the education, there is no God, there’s nothing else out there, we are the masters of our own world, the commanders of our own destiny, we have grown up and have no need for God, or so they say.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s a chink appearing in their answer as some atheists in pondering a world without God have begun to realise it may well be a moral disaster. A world in which the human is king means that each can do what is right in their owns eyes, and that doesn’t look pretty, anarchy would prevail.
The fact is, a world without God and without that first Christmas when God came in human flesh, would be a very depressing place. A world without transcendence has no where else to look but at its own navel. A world without God is left to the darkness of its own musings. A world that’s always looking in and never out has no real hope to it. Hope becomes what you make it, and that doesn’t amount to much when things occur that don’t fit our into our plans, our chosen destiny, whether it’s a job loss, a diagnosis, a failed exam, a death, a pandemic… It leaves us with awkward questions, who are we? Why am I here? What is life all about?
The world of that first Christmas was dark and depressing. There were those who believed in gods of various kinds controlling various parts of nature, gods who had to be appeased in various ways. There were some who believed that exceptional leaders must be a god, until of course someone greater came and deposed them. Then there were philosophers trying to come up with varying explanations. There were rabble rousers and people with a messiah complex. Power plays and power struggles. There was sickness, poverty, injustice. And then there was a small group of people who believed in what they understood to be the one true and living God, the creator and sustainer of all life. They were meant to represent him to the world but sadly they frequently fell for other gods. But God didn’t give up on them or his purpose for the world.
The birth of Jesus was, and still is, an unparalleled moment in human history. An event that would transform it and make it an altogether saner place, not perfect, but saner. God was manifest in flesh. That was unheard of. The gods usually didn’t get involved with the stuff of mortals. But this God comes and dwells in real flesh – “God contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man,” as Charles Wesley put it.
He had come to save us from our sin and its consequences. A salvation that would go to root and branch and not only save us from our sin, but transform the way we think about ourselves and one another and the world we live in. A salvation that would truly transform our understanding and vision of what it meant and means to be human.
Today, that story is being eroded. Chipped away at. It is evidenced in news story after news story, in TV soaps, films etc.. When we lose the good news, we lose not only the gospels saving message, but also what it is to be human, made and remade in the image of God. The gospel still needs to be heard, God was manifest in the flesh. That that should be so changes everything, it changes how I think about me, you and everyone else, it is where true ethics starts and ends.