To celebrate Christmas this year, Jamie Kerr, a Partner at Burness Paull, reflects on the message of hope and redemption that this festive time brings.
The classic Christmas tune God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is a great starting point in helping us to understand the message that underpins the great Christian festival of Christmas and the period of Advent that precedes it.
One of the oldest Christmas songs, it has been recorded by artists as varied as Annie Lennox, the Glee Cast and Nat King Cole. It even features in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, much to the dismay of the Victorian Mr. Scrooge who chases the singer of it away.
The words of the song many of us will be able to sing off by heart:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
The first verse of this catchy song reminds us that this festival is rooted in the Christian message of hope and redemption. The first Christmas started a new chapter in the history of civilisation. Christians believe that God became man, to come and save all of us, no matter who we are or what struggles we face in this life.
Most of us know the first Christmas story – many of us will even have cribs in our homes that remind us of it.
The Holy Family travelled to Bethlehem, Judea, in the heart of the modern day Middle East, in order to register under the census decreed by Caesar Augustus. Mary was heavily pregnant and there was ‘no room at the inn’ for them. Despite their dire circumstances, every door that they asked for help at turned them away. The baby Jesus was therefore born in a stable – in a manger - amongst the animals and in abject poverty.
Transformed is the feared and vengeful God of the books of the Old Testament into man, into a baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, because there was no room for him at the inn.
The simplicity of that first Christmas remains profound today, two thousand years later. The happiness, joy and simplicity of that first Christmas is still worth pondering in the modern world, as we allow ourselves to be caught up in the consumerism and merriment of the modern Christmas, much like the Whos in Whoville. For so many in our country and in our world, they will celebrate their Christmas this year amidst dreadful poverty comparable to that of the manger. We should be mindful of that and ensure that we always offer room at the inn for the poorest and the most marginalised in our society.
The lowly Shepherds left their fields to be the first to visit the manger. They realised the great joy of the Christmas message and were first to proclaim the ‘peace to all men’ message. The Magi, the Wise Men of the East, coming with gold and other treasures, fell down and worshipped the Baby Jesus.
Perhaps this year, we can leave our own fields, our desks, and put aside the treasures delivered daily from online shopping, in order to think about the simplicity of that first Christmas and how it is that simple things can transform our lives and transform the world.
In Finland (the home of Santa Claus), they have a wonderful tradition going back to the 14th century of announcing the Declaration of Christmas Peace. The Christmas Eve declaration is read aloud in the city square at Turku and the entire nation tunes in to hear it, much like the Queen’s Speech in the UK.
It reminds Finns that Christmas is the ‘graceful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour; and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advising devotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully…'
For Christians, peace is synonymous with Christmas. The call of ‘peace to all’ means we yearn for peace in the world - for peace in the Middle East, for peace in the conflict zones of the world, but also for peace in our own lives and in our own homes.
Peace in our own lives is not always easy to achieve. Perhaps addictions will break the Christmas peace in our homes. Perhaps it is strained family relations that will break our Christmas peace, or it could be money worries, stress, loneliness, illness or grief.
The Christian message of peace to all is a challenging one, but we all have a part to play in our own lives to make peace a reality. Christmas is not always a happy time, especially this year amongst all the restrictions, illness and isolation, but the Christian message of hope, joy, peace and salvation should guide us in transforming our Christmas this year.
Mr. Scrooge transformed his life overnight at Christmas before it was too late for him. It is never too late. Perhaps we should all be more like Mr. Scrooge! Or perhaps we could also be more like Cindy Lou in The Grinch who showed kindness and invited the marginalised and lonely Grinch to dinner and by that simple gesture of goodness transformed his life.
The transformation of lives that the Christian faith promises can start quite simply. Perhaps the simple act of making the first move and telephoning someone is what will transform our lives. Perhaps it will be sending a card to someone estranged from us. Perhaps we need to be more patient and bite our tongue at the Christmas table. Or perhaps we just need to smile and wish someone a Merry Christmas.
The conditions of 2020 will force us to have a different Christmas this year – no boozy parties, no large gatherings and maybe even no Midnight Mass. But the message from the manger remains a hopeful and a simple one, yet one that is incredibly powerful and can transform our lives and our society: we should not dismay, because Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day, to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray.
Wishing everyone tidings of comfort and joy, as well as a happy and peaceful Christmas and looking with hope towards 2021 and the transformation our resolutions will bring.