This is the first Christmas in 35 years that I’ve been right away from my family. We did all gather early on in December but it’s very strange to be in another country without my family near. It’s been a struggle to “get into the Christmas spirit” and I’ve spent time reflecting on what Christmas is really all about.
My childhood memories of Christmas revolve around a silver tinsel Christmas tree, fairy lights and boxes under the trees that presents magically appeared in during the week before Christmas. Christmas Day we were allowed to open one present each before we went off to church. I knew from an early age that the birth of Jesus was the central part of Christmas.
This year however, it’s all a little different. I don’t have any traditions to follow. There’s been no Christmas parties, no Christmas cards in the mail (though I may find I have a stack when I return in January!)
Christmas can be a time fraught with difficulty for many people. Families have high hopes of a good time together that can be marred by family arguments. Loved ones who have passed away during the year are doubly missed. People feel loneliness more keenly, especially if they’ve outlived their spouses and friends, if their family is unable or unwilling to visit, if life choices and addictions mean that family ties are splintered.
We’ve all bought into the Christmas- is-about-family idea, and there’s really not all that much wrong with that. After all, a family was formed at Christmas when Jesus was born. Families are important in God’s scheme of things as God is all about relationships.
But I think there’s something more. Over the last 6 or 7 years I’ve been reflecting deeply on the kingdom of God and what it really means. Jesus spoke about it so much. His message over and over was that the kingdom of God is near.
The Wise Men came seeking the newborn king. Herod killed baby boys to prevent any pretender to his crown remaining alive.
This Christmas life circumstances have forced me to focus on Christmas as the coming of the king. God had promised a messiah. The Jews had longed for a king. Jesus was both. But as my dear friend Ruth so aptly put it the “Kingdom never ‘looks right’ – it looks like defeat (but is really victory); it looks like loss (but reveals great gain); it looks like death (but is truly life!).”
The king came but not to a palace. The king came but not to a fanfare of media (unless perhaps for the angel chorus). The king came but not to safety (he and his family fled to Egypt). The king came but the people who had longed for a king and messiah didn’t accept him. The king came and was enthroned (on a cross).
But the resurrection proved that the king had come and that the kingdom of God was and is a reality.
So at Christmas time, millennia later, I rejoice because the king has come!