I wonder if you have seen the Sainsbury Advert on TV this December? Based around the events of December 1914, soldiers hear a few voices singing Silent Night, put down their guns, come out of the trenches to play football, greet one another and exchange simple presents. It demonstrates the humanity and friendship we are capable of even for a little while - in the midst of the horror of war. Its a glimpse of a different way of living, a better world.
This was a war where it was expected that the troops would all be home by Christmas. We know the reality. A.E Houseman captures the heart wrenching dashing of such overblown optimism: The lads in their hundreds from Ludlow come into town…and there with the rest are the lads that will never grow old. The war to end all wars left 16 million dead and 20 million seriously wounded. At least 6 million families in this country sent their sons to war and never discovered what happened to them. So many graves with that phrase carved: known to God. The Christmas carol singing and football match of 1914 was a tiny light amidst much darkness. It was carnage. Young lives and hopes crushed.
Where was God in all this? The Christmas story gives us some clues.
It is sometimes told like a fairy tale with a Disney gloss but, in fact, it portrays a down to earth God. In truth, Christmas shows how God steps into our messy reality. Born into a poor family; from up north in Nazareth - an area looked down upon by the rest of the country; the gossip over Marys pregnancy such that the babys parentage would always be questioned; a dangerous journey because of the country being occupied by enemy forces; the birth in difficult conditions; and then visited by shepherds - who were considered little more than rough thieves in their day - and later a bunch of strange foreigners (astronomers from the east); the infant was soon to be made a refugee because his family had to flee to Egypt when Herod sent his death squads into Bethlehem. The backdrop to the Christmas story is full of threat and menace.
A down to earth God: The bible tells us that He is not aloof and does not leave us alone in our mess. God is with us in our troubles. The baby Jesus born in Bethlehem was crucified a lifetime later on a hill outside Jerusalem. At just 33 years old, a life cut short. In the agony and torture of his crucifixion, God has entered into and embraced the worst that human beings can do to each other and to him. He was present in the trenches amidst the mud, blood, guts and horror alongside the frightened soldiers 100 years ago. As I believe he is today with the fleeing refugees from Iraq and Syria, the famine victims of Sudan, the communities fighting Ebola in West Africa and with us in our struggles.
At Christmas, God is showing us another way to live. A new born baby… a man nailed to a cross: God comes to us in helplessness. He does not want to force us but to reach out to us, to forgive us and heal us. Listen to the Christmas carols, hear the cry of the tiny baby and see how Jesus taught and lived. He calls us to join him in building a better world.