This blog was originally published at www.allsaintspeckham.org.uk on the 29/12/15.
I find Christmas fascinating; countries around the world stop everything for a festival that for many celebrants on a day to day basis has little relevance and they would admit makes little difference to their life. For me personally as someone who does profess the Christian faith in God I actually find it a time when I ask the most difficult questions about my faith have the most doubts about the God.
This is not surprising, as my own birthday falls in December as well as some of the most significant events in my life having occurred to me in the month. Each year it therefore represents a staging post and marker in my life; a moment to stop and pause in the hectic rush of life.
December 2007 was a particularly memorable, a very good friend of mine had a son, I proposed to my now wife and the same friend was diagnosed with a brain tumour. That friend was one of the most loyal and amazing friends who embraced life and had a simple extraordinary faith in God and through his friendship offered me extraordinary support in my times of need. Unfortunately in 2012 he went on to die and the following year in completely separate circumstances his wife also died leaving their son as an orphan.
Both my friend and his wife were faithful to God and through a very simple strong faith they shined out light both to me and to others who they came into contact with them. At Christmas time I find myself asking difficult questions about what Christmas might mean therefore in their death, and what it should mean to their son now and his grandparents who now look after him.
These questions force me to accept that Christmas cannot mean anything glib, the tinsel, trees and food all feel a poor answer to a God that can allow these things to happen. Even some of the deeper layers of togetherness, peace on earth and holiness feel inadequate in the face of God that can let such awfulness happen.
However if we peel underneath all of those layers we see a very different Christmas that is very relevant to both my friend’s family, the time we currently live in and has particularly resonance in the current refugee crisis. This is a Crhistmas which is much darker and grittier.
This is a Christmas where God chooses to be born helpless, where the imperial power of the times has imposed mass displacement, a God that chooses a teenage couple out of wedlock, far a way from their family and close support, alienated and dependant on good will from a stable owner. If that all still seems too rosy, too picture book the Christmas story ends with them on run from a local despot intent on mass infanticide.
At Christmas, God says Immanuel, which means God with us. God did not choose a superhero entry into earth swooping in to save the day. It would have been much easier for Him but it would not have provided the answer the humanity needed. What is so amazing about the Christmas story is that it shows a God wanting to get under the skin, of humanity who wants to walk with the least, to know the broken and support the lost; a God who does all that by relying and trusting on us. He trusts Mary and Joseph, he trusts the inn keeper, he trusts, the shepherds and he trusts the wise men as well as no doubt many others who history now forgets.
Returning to my friend’s son and his and his wife’s death. Do I believe God wanted them to die? No. Do I believe their deaths made sense? No. Do I believe my friend’s Son would be better of with them in his life? Absolutely. Do I still have questions I want to ask God? Yes, and in so doing I join in a long line of people through out both the bible and history.
However my challenge is to remember that Christmas tells me that God is with us and has chosen to know our pain; that God walks in the darkest places on this planet. At the same time he invites like Mary and Joseph to join in with Him and to bring his light in this world to those I encounter.
This Christmas know that faith and doubt are not opposites but stand together; you can not have one without the other. For those in need and pain, know that God walks that place with you. For those who can give to others, however small know in so doing you joining in with the great redemptive weave of God’s work.