For many, Christmas is a rather sentimental time, a time for children, for family life, for present-giving, for a break from the demands of work.
All of this is good in itself, but it is far from the Bible gospel message of Christmas.
There we find a demanding teaching and a disclosure of the nature of God, and of what he has done.
God, who is a spiritual reality accepted the limitations of a physical lifetime.
All majesty, glory, splendour set aside, the Eternal became mortal, subject to living in one place, at one time, speaking with one voice, setting one example, subject to misunderstanding, even by his own family, followed by a disparate few, condemned by the leaders of his own people and faith.
To the Christian fellowship at Phillipi, Paul wrote: “The divine nature was Jesus’ from the first, yet he made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave. Revealed in human form he humbled himself, and in obedience accepted even death – death on a cross.” This is the nature of the God we worship.
How are we to serve the one we worship? He taught this: “When I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you took me into your own home, when naked you clothed me, when I was ill you came to my help, when in prison you visited me….Anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me.”
The great good fortune of the Church during the last year has been the election of Pope Francis, and the appointment of Archbishop Justin.
Both have made it absolutely clear that the first concern of the gospel and the church must be the poorest, the weakest, the bereaved, the oppressed, sufferers of all kinds in mind, body or spirit.
The early church understood this, and conveyed it in the Christmas nativity story.
A baby born in a stable, laid in a cattle manger, a fugitive from murderous authority.
In every way a brother to the children we see on our television suffering in Syria today.
I quote from an article I read this week in a Roman-Catholic magazine. “Christ came to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.”