The lead up to Christmas is undoubtedly a time of ritual: buying the tree and dressing it, wrapping presents (in my case very badly), decorating the house and so forth. Watching a Christmas film or two is, for many families, a favourite ritual. Does anyone have a favourite Christmas film? A couple of days ago I watched a film, a very old film, that I had never seen before: ‘The Bishop’s Wife,’ staring David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young. Has anyone seen it? David Niven plays the part of a bishop who has somewhat lost his way, both in his marriage and in his vocation as a bishop. Cary Grant plays the part of an angel who suddenly and mysteriously appears in order to lead the bishop back to his true vocation.
The bishop’s problem is that he has got so caught up in the finery and ritual of religion that he has lost sight of the purpose and rationale of faith. He has become all technique, technique which he is not even very good at, at the expense of virtue. He has forgotten that Christianity is a religion that stresses the importance of grace and charity. He has forgotten that generosity and love must always sit at the heart of all true Christianity, and before we pass judgement on the good bishop we should, perhaps, remind ourselves that we too can become so fixated on ritual and technique that we too forget that generosity and giving must sit at the heart of our faith.
The Christmas story is the story of God’s generosity. God, through the person of Jesus Christ, gives entirely of himself. He gives Himself to each and every one of us and this, surely, is the best of news?
So how should we respond to the good news of Jesus Christ? Well, as St. Luke rightly insists, with ‘great joy’ and generosity we should give him, as Christina Rosstti wrote, ‘our heart.’ The really good news is that if we do this we will grow in generosity and gratitude. We will become increasingly kind and compassionate. We will become good news. We will become the sort of people who bring a little of the Kingdom of God, in heaven, down to earth.
So, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas and as you enjoy the ritual of opening your presents, to spend just a short time making sure that you give back to Jesus the very best present that you can: your heart, Amen.