I am about to pack away Christmas … the tree is gone, though the cards will remain for a few days yet: on strings around the room they add a certain atmosphere at any time of year. I won’t miss the tree … the lounge can go back to normal as we reclaim the space. But I will miss the nativity set – I had fun making the figures and the stable, and it’s been good to have the scene set in our hallway, so that we see it each time we pass from lounge to dining room to study (if we look, that is). For me, it’s been the centrepiece this year.

There is a place in town that displays a large nativity scene each year, in a shop window where people pass by. Other than that, you would never know that Christmas has anything to do with the church, or even with God, let alone with Jesus … and for many it doesn’t. It is simply a family celebration, similar to Thanksgiving in the US (which is also, historically, a Christian festival), or New Year in Japan. Which means that for many it is a season full of pain rather than joy … for the lonely, the grieving, the poor, the abused. It is only as we remember that the nativity is the heart of Christmas, that it can truly become a time of hope for everyone.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

Luke 2:8-14 (NIV)