Christmas is important to our communities – it brings us together

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Tim Farron MP took part in the Christmas debate in Parliament’s Westminster Hall on “Christmas, Christianity and communities”. This is his speech:

This year I’ve had the joy of visiting local Christmas markets, Christmas tree festivals, carol services and nativity plays. At my church in Kendal, and across the country, our Christmas celebrations reach many more people than those who normally attend our services.

Christmas is a shared acknowledgement of the importance of a time of rest and for family. For those working in health, care, hospitality and other professions, it’s also a time of enhanced busyness.

Traditions are important. In our family, we decorate a tree in the woods, we do the same walk on Christmas Eve, we share the annual festive disappointment of a trip to Blackburn Rovers, and we watch the same films.

Some see the loss of the Christian message from Christmas as an undermining of British values. But commercialism, escapism and a schmaltzy vague magic have been displacing the meaning of the nativity for decades.

Let’s not forget that the Christian message has always been seen as inconvenient; something uncomfortable to be brushed aside at any time of year.

Christianity has always been countercultural. It is deeply disturbing and even offensive. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Lucy asks Mr Beaver whether Aslan is ‘a tame lion?’ ‘Oh no!’ says Mr Beaver. ‘He’s not tame… but he is good!’

Jesus isn’t tame, Christmas isn’t tame. But he is and it is good. And if you are prepared to be disturbed and offended you will discover that he is good … for you.

Christmas is full of stories. Dickens’ Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, the Home Alone films, the many legends of Father Christmas.

But the Christmas story is a different kind of tale altogether.

It is told in just two of the gospels, Matthew and Luke, and jarringly, the writers expect us to believe that the nativity is history. At the start of his narrative, Luke says that he has “carefully investigated” the reports that were handed down by “eyewitnesses”, and has “decided to write an orderly account” for his readers to “know the certainty of the things you have been taught”.

This tells us that this story cannot just be a feel-good festive yarn. It tells of the God of the universe writing himself into our story. He enters the world he created as a baby born in poverty in an obscure corner of the Roman empire; coming to suffer and die in our place so that sinful human beings can be forgiven our wretchedness and have eternal life.

Given Luke’s introduction, this story can only be either fact or fabrication. And when you look carefully into the eyewitness evidence, you’ll see that any plausible theory of fabrication also falls away.

Do you get a shiver down your spine when you think of the magic of Christmas? How much more of a shiver might you get if you realise that the nativity is actually a true story?

Millions have accepted that and it continues to be crucial to our society today.

The nativity tells of a teenage mum, who with her husband and new child become refugees from a tyrant, lost in an empire that cares little for them, that values them only as tax fodder. There’s so much there for so many people to identify with. It’s a reminder that God never considers you an irrelevance, an insignificance, or an anonymous number. Every hair on your head is numbered, your name is written on the palm of his hands.

Commercialism and escapism will not give meaning to Christmas. Maybe we shop ourselves out of despair. Or perhaps we feel inclined to ignore Christmas because, looking at the state of the world, what is there to celebrate?

Well, God looked at the world and saw the mess. But he didn’t hide away. He entered in at enormous cost, and he did so because he loves you. Christians are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities – running foodbanks, providing support for those in debt and poverty, housing the homeless, befriending the lonely, loving our neighbour in practical ways – not because we seek to earn God’s favour, but in response to the fact that, by his grace, we already have it. And Christmas proves we have it.

If the Christmas story is true, it means there is justice. It means evil doesn’t win. It means there is love beyond our wildest dreams. It means there is ultimate truth and there is meaning in every life and in every part of every life.

It means that human rights actually exist. They’re not just a passing fashion, but they are the invention of the Inventor of everything. They mean that every human being has ultimate dignity, bearing the image of God, and no parliament, president, despot nor dictator can change that.

Christmas is a time of sadness for some. We feel the loss of loved ones. It is a great time of joy for me, but this Christmas will be my 20th without my Mum. The last thing I read to my Mum in her hospital bed, was this from the last book of the Bible, Revelation 21:3-4:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying ‘now the dwelling of God is with humans, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'”

If Luke is to be believed – that the nativity is eyewitness testimony – then you can believe this too. It means that there’s hope. Happy Christmas!

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