Keen naval historians have a special affection for September 29th.
Because on that day in 1758 Horatio Nelson was born.
So, they see September 29th as a day for celebration. But that celebration is not simply because of his birth on that day. If he had spent his life as a deckhand or gunner, it’s unlikely he would be remembered.
No, the celebration embraces all that he achieved in his life. Radical new tactics. Brilliant leadership. Charisma and courage. Self-sacrifice: an eye and an arm. Stunning triumphs at Copenhagen and the Nile. All capped by a country-saving victory at Trafalgar along with the ultimate sacrifice: losing his life in the service of his country.
On December 25th we celebrate the birth of Christ: the day God entered his created world in the shape of a baby. That is indeed cause for celebrations. But it’s not the whole cause.
Because Christmas Day is not the whole story. It’s just the opening chapter. Our celebrations can only be complete if they embrace what that baby went on to do in his life, why he did it and what it means for us.
A birth in humble, even marginalised circumstances. Early boyhood as a refugee. A roller-coaster 3-year ministry featuring radical new teaching, mind-blowing miracles, compelling stories and the careful nurturing and role-modelling of his closest followers. Culminating in the ultimate self-sacrifice. Willingly following a path from adulation and superstardom to betrayal, torture and execution in the course of a single week. Followed by a miraculous, hope-inspiring and life-instilling resurrection. A triumph of light and life over darkness and death that gives the promise of eternal hope to us all.
As the song says: ‘Man shall live forever more because of Christmas Day’.
That’s why we celebrate Christmas.
Jesus is who, what and why we celebrate.
There is nothing wrong in celebrating Christmas with all the trimmings: presents, tree, Santa, Christmas lunch, Muppets Christmas Carol. As long as we continue to remember exactly who, what and why it is that we are celebrating. But the shocking fact is that more than 50% of people say that the birth of Jesus is ‘irrelevant’ to their Christmas.
The sadness is that for millions of people the nativity has become just another ingredient in all the trimmings of the secular Xmas story. The real story, the full story, begins with a manger and a birth, and ends with the cross and a resurrection. Without the cradle, there can be no cross.
Yet recent research reveals that 40% of people do not even realise that Jesus was a real person who actually lived. People need to be helped to put the whole story together by connecting the cute and cuddly baby Jesus born at Christmas with the scourged and bloodied Christ crucified and resurrected at Easter.
The two festivals need to be reconnected in the public consciousness, with Jesus Christ central to both.
For without Christmas there can be no Easter; and without Easter there is no point in Christmas: we need to protect and project their Christian foundations.
Which is why this poster, ‘The Passion of the Christmas’, features a stark, even shocking, image of the scourged Christ carrying not a cross but a Christmas tree, with the simple message:
Remember who, what and why we are celebrating this and every Christmas.
Lord, far too many people are far too happy to see Jesus as just a cuddly baby in a manger; and far too comfortable in leaving him there.
This Christmas, help us to talk with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about the vital connection between Christmas and Easter and the huge message of hope that Jesus Christ brings to the world.