There’s nothing comfortable about the Christmas story, or accepting our own need for forgiveness and grace. But it’s still the best gift we’ll ever receive, says Tim Farron
We got our tree this weekend, which means that according to the Farron family festive rules, it was OK to pull out the Christmas DVDs, sit down in our living room and watch Home Alone for the first, but not the last, time this month.
Sat with my wife, kids and dogs, with a newly decorated tree, watching one of our favourite feelgood Christmas movies, I confess to feeling a cosy satisfaction. Roll on Home Alone 2 (although not Home Alone 3 or 4, because they are complete abominations…) Christmas imagery of sparkly lights, roaring fires and vague homilies about goodwill and good wines are now all over our timelines and airwaves, and I guess it’s a welcome distraction from new Covid variants and the various other downers that we face.
To follow Jesus is an act of glorious desperation. Christmas is for desperate people.
After the last couple of years esepecially, who can blame us for stepping back and seeking a little comfort at Christmas? But when we look a little closer at the Christmas story, we realise that comfort was not what Jesus was born into. Nor was it what he lived, nor – most alarmingly - what he taught.
Challenges not platitudes
We think about cute and cosy nativities in school halls but the reality was that Jesus was born into a poor family in a hostile world. He grew up and claimed to be God – surely the only person in history to ever do that and be taken seriously - but as an itinerant teacher, he didn’t have a place to call home. His teaching was not placid platitudes but fiery challenges. He shunned comfort and willingly walked a path to a humiliating and painful death on a cross outside Jerusalem. And he calls us to the discomfort of repentance from our wrongdoing.
Surely there’s nothing more uncomfortable than realising our need for forgiveness. At Christmas, the best gift we are ever going to be offered is something we don’t want to accept that we need.
In Home Alone, Kevin finds himself sat with his elderly neighbour, in an otherwise empty church, listening to the rehearsal for a carol service. The choir are singing ‘O Holy Night’ - a song with a peculiar message: “Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices! / O night divine, O night when Christ was born”, and then “Behold your King; before Him lowly bend”.
When I hear those words, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and not just because they are sung so beautifully. But why would they uplift me so? Why, when these words are a call to submission, to accepting my own weakness and openly declaring my desperate need? Surely, to be uplifted, we need words of encouragement that boost our self-esteem? A defiant chorus of ‘Simply the best’ perhaps?
But no. At Christmas, I am faced with the one I am made by and for, come in human form for one reason only - because he loves me; because he is on an unstoppable mission to save me and because those tiny hands in the crib are the safest hands in the world.
Faced with that truth, down on my knees is where I want to be. In fact, it’s the only place to be. Uncomfortable, humiliating, out of step with the world? Sure. But that was how it was during Jesus’s ministry on earth. His teachings often caused great discomfort to his followers. In John 6:66-69 we are told that “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
At Christmas, the best gift we are ever going to be offered is something we don’t want to accept that we need
If, like Peter, we truly believe that the story of Christmas led to the story of Easter, then we know that we have nowhere else to go either. To follow Jesus is an act of glorious desperation. Christmas is for desperate people.
Your experience of Christmas may not be the comfortable cosiness I feel watching Home Alone. Don’t worry. If the Christmas story is true, then the God in heaven knows exactly how it feels to be without comfort. You are in good company. And if you trust him you are in safe hands.
Fall on your knees.