I was asked a couple of weeks ago what Christmas meant to me. I suppose it is the kind of question that I ought to have a ready answer for - like "why are you a vicar?" or "how did you become a Christian?" At this time of year it can take you by surprise if you're not prepared.
And I wasn't prepared - actually, I was stumped. I didn't have a simple two-phrase answer, and much as I attempted to produce one, one really wasn't for coming. Oh, I said something or other that was superficially interesting... but actually a bit vacuous... and hoped no-one would notice I had no reply to a perfectly decent and obvious question.
Part of me has been worrying since that radio interview the other week (the one where the agony aunt thought I was a great advert for the church & the presenter noticed I hadn't mentioned God) that I'm going through that part of the cycle where presentation is triumphing over substance. Because I have a tendency to beat myself up over these things, I've been fretting over my spiritual state. If I was counselling me, of course, I'd be telling me that care for one's soul is usually a sign that things are not awful. It's when there is no thought for how one's personal walk with God is going that the rot has really set in! Stressing that I'm a bit weak, spiritually - well, you know, I can hear the voice of reason, but still I let the worry play out...
And so back to Christmas.
A girl pregnant before marriage in a culture where that carried the death penalty; a man being loyal despite the disapproval of his whole family; worthless nomads outside the town gates and beyond nice society; philosphers with a screw loose risking political suicide and brandishing the worst gifts ever. And the Creator God born in an animal's stall, but holding every human heart in his tiny fingers and inviting us to let go the things that fill our worlds and simply love him. It's a long way from heaven to Bethlehem. It's just an invitation back.
I live so much of my life so far from heaven. The meaning of Christmas for me is - that's OK; God has made the journey. It's a long way from heaven to Bethlehem. His love comes down and reaches Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, me and you. And he invites us to take hold of his hand, to love as we are loved and as we forget we are loved, and he promises never to let go. Christmas to me means it's not just about my mess; God is here. So there is hope.