Thought for the Week (Archive)
The Real Meaning of Christmas (29/11/2010)
It's at this time of year that I usually hear someone complain that adults and children are missing the real meaning of Christmas. What that meaning is never gets said exactly - the speaker usually assumes that I know. My guess is that it is a mixture of family, church, turkey, log fires and Bing Crosby.
If I am pressed about the real meaning of Christmas I sometimes point people in the direction of the man the Church commemorates on December 6th - Saint Nicholas. There are a number of stories attached to Nicholas who allegedly was the Bishop of Myra in the 4th century, in what is now Turkey.
I have no way of knowing if any of the legends actually happened in some form - but I believe that if they are not true factually then they are certainly true spiritually. The most famous legend tells of a poor widower with three daughters who are approaching marrying age. His poverty means that he cannot give the girls a dowry - a gift of money to entice would-be husbands - which means they are unlikely to marry.
The father cannot feed the girls and worries about what the future will hold. Nicholas hears of the man's troubles and in the night visits the house and without anyone seeing, he leaves three bags of gold by the beds of the girls. Sometimes the tale is told with three gold balls being given instead of bags and sometimes the gold is thrown through the window and lands in the girls' stockings or shoes.
The story is origin of a number of Christmas traditions but it also speaks of a number of Christian truths too - that authentic faith always finds practical expression in generosity; giving is best done away from the limelight, even in secret; and gifts are best focussed on those who are without rather on those who have plenty. At Christmas the giving we plan to do usually takes the opposite form - it is given to people who know who is doing the giving and who have plenty already. St Nicholas' story and the Gospels' story of the gift of the Christ-child suggest that that the real meaning of Christmas may be found when we are able to give to those who are without and when the giving is known by God alone.
The Revd Keith James
Rural Dean for Kidderminster and Rector of Ribbesford w Bewdley & Dowles