We British have one or two polite stock phrases readily to hand for those times when we want to say something, but don’t really have anything meaningful in mind at that moment. Apparently they are known as ‘phatic exchanges’.
‘Nice weather we’re having…’ is one, and ‘lovely day isn’t it?…’is another. Also ‘must do lunch sometime’ (when not immediately followed by an invitation), and even ‘how are you?’ is often reduced to a phatic unless we are genuinely prepared to listen to the answer.
In fact, it’s an area we can be inclined to struggle. That whole thing of finding friendly words to fill the embarrassed silence in the lift, in the queue or wherever else we happen to be momentarily stuck in the personal space of someone we don’t know well, can leave us groping for ideas.
But come the first day of December, everyone seems to leap with relieved alacrity on one more:
‘Are you ready for Christmas?’
No-one is actually really interested in whether you’ve wrapped your last present and put the final touches on the Christmas tree, whether your mince pies are made and turkey stuffed; it is simply an observation that at this time of year, all eyes tend to be focussed on the coming festivities, and an assumption is made that we’re all in the same boat, travelling in the same direction. Something to say..
Responses vary from ‘Bah, humbug’ through to a rather smug, and – depending how early in the month it is, perhaps slightly irritating – ‘Yep… all ready!’
In the UK, recent statistics indicate that only about two thirds of people, who describe themselves as Christians, are aware that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Which leads us to draw the conclusion that the other third of Christians must have absolutely no idea what it’s all about. (Survey conducted by the Evangelical Alliance in 2016).
In another survey, 61% of people expressed a view that Christmas is only for children, and 18% of people expressed a feeling of dread of Christmas for a whole variety of reasons – the primary one probably being that the season brings into sharp focus how isolated and hopeless our lives often feel (ComRes on behalf of Theos).
We have turned Christmas into a noisy, expensive charade that has largely lost sight of what we’re meant to be celebrating.
Let Satan get his hands on anything wonderful and he will ruin it.
The evidence for the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is too strong to be ignored. It happened over 2000 years ago, was documented by the Apostle, Matthew and by Luke, a Greek physician with tenacity and an eye for detail. Both are believed to have written their accounts within living memory of the actual events described. They clearly interviewed many of the people who had witnessed events first hand, and both have since been researched and investigated with the purpose of discrediting their accounts by some pretty weighty historians (A.N.Sherwin-White, Sir William Ramsay). Those who have investigated in any real depth have come to the same conclusions, the accounts of Matthew and Luke are authentic and can be relied upon as fact. Some of our most highly educated and investigative minds have been turned from atheism to profound faith by the simple act of reading the gospels with the intention of discrediting them. Ex barrister, now Anglican Priest, Nicky Gumbel and Oxford Academic and author, C.S.Lewis being two well known examples.
Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was born in a smelly stable, and laid in a manger. In the style with which He has continued ever since – by appearing in the place we are least likely to look for our saving king.
So, before you lose the real joy of Christmas among tinsel, turkeys, mince pies, silly hats and the huge pressure to look as though you’re having a good time, remember this:
Christmas is not empty…
He won’t be seen among the pomp and the glitter, He won’t be heard among the noise and celebration unless you listen really hard. The birth of Jesus Christ brings real hope, not just for intellectuals or for the crashingly naïve, but hope for everyone, no matter who they are or what age they are.
The magic of Christmas is in the manger. Jesus’ style is gentle, meek and unassuming. His voice tends to be quiet, often felt rather than heard, and we need calm moments to stop and listen.
Or we may miss the greatest gift of all.