A Christmas message from Rt Rev Susan Brown, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Published on 25 December 2018
People’s reaction to Christmas and all the hype that surrounds it can be a bit like a certain yeast extract: people either love it or they hate it. That goes for those who have a faith as well as for those with none.
I have to say clearly though, that it’s not the message of Christmas that’s the problem. The notion of God with us and among us is amazing, wonderful and jaw-droppingly humbling. The problem is all the cultural and social baggage that has grown up alongside the good news of the birth of Christ. Much of it has so entwined itself around the celebrations that it can be hard to tell what is central to the faith and what is not: what is truth and what is fiction.
Adverts on our screens portray happy families, round a Christmas tree, all smiling and looking like models; the children with a pile of presents at their feet and the dog and the cat wearing Christmas hats at a jaunty angle, curled up in their respective baskets.
A picture that is so far from what is the reality for so many of us!
It’s not just that in our house, the dog would be running off with the turkey and the cat would be up the tree, while the children would each want what the other had, while dad fell asleep in the chair. It’s the fact that for many families, there may not be enough money to buy presents.
Or a tree.
While for others, Christmas Day is a long, lonely endurance test because they have no-one to share it with or because it is full of memories of people who are no longer around. Think too of the parents longing for children and of the children who long for a family.
Then there are those who, like the parents of the baby Jesus, have nowhere to call home and others again, for whom home is no more than a cardboard box in a shop doorway.
That’s the other thing about Christmas.
People don’t like the party being dampened by what is the reality of the lives others live – and yet as people of faith, we believe one of the main reasons Christ was born, was to share the pain of those who hurt and are suffering and to bring hope to the whole world. That means we celebrate Jesus’ birth best when we let its message speak to the very real fears and failures, disappointments, grief and despair of very real people, and point to what is the powerful and central message of the Christmas story which is God’s utter commitment to his people and his world. Especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.
Donning party hats and Christmas jumpers alone, is not going to do that. Using the Christmas period to reach out to the lonely however, to offer space to the upset, to feed the hungry and look for ways to house the homeless, will.
What we are celebrating is Good News for all the world.
Let’s make sure all the world hears it.
This article first appeared in the December issue of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland. You can subscribe to the magazine here.