Christmas – more than just an idea!
Bishop Alan Hopes reflects on the Christian approach to Christmas.
Christmas, like every other great feast in the Church’s calendar, is not based on a philosophy or an idea, but on an historical event: God actually became man for the love of us. The Apostle John wrote:
Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard and we have seen with our own eyes, that we have watched and touched with our hands… we are giving our testimony. (1 John 1: 1-3)
As Christians, we are the successors of this apostolic testimony. The weary world around us has heard rumour of it, and we are here to say, “Yes, it’s true! God really has been here!”
Without this event, nothing at all would be different. History would remain a perpetual defeat. The best policies and aspirations of countless centuries could not remove the burden of iniquity that Adam and Eve laid on the human race by their decisive rebellion. But the birth of the infant Christ – and his subsequent life, death, resurrection and ascension – has taken that burden and smashed it to pieces. The Fall of Adam is broken by the fact of God taking flesh.
This is why the Christian approach to Christmas is so much more real than the remnants of that festival celebrated by modern society. For us, it is not a socially-constructed, historically-determined opinion, for which we happen to have a certain nostalgia and which is a convenient pretext for a midwinter holiday. Rather, this feast reminds us of what has actually taken place.
And because it is real, its effect on us must be real. We must be fashioned after this feast - different people than we would otherwise be. The whole history of the Church is based on this logic: in the wake of the manger, sinners become saints, and cynics become witnesses!
Rt Rev Alan Hopes is the Catholic Bishop of East Anglia.
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