Paying attention to Christmas

Confused by Christmas? Finding it hard to picture the whole manger scene, with the donkey and the Christmas tree? Not sure whether the angels and the reindeer would have frightened the sheep?

Is wishing on a star any better than trying to persuade Father Christmas, against all the evidence, that you have been good for a whole year?

Well, you are not alone.  According to a recent poll, one in ten young adults thinks that Santa Claus appears in the Bible, a Christmas tree featured in the Nativity and December 25 is stated by the Gospel writers to be the date of Jesus’ birth.

Presumably a good deal more than one in ten think it doesn’t really matter, since my own poll has revealed that for 90% of the population, life is what happens when you’re not really paying attention.

As a result, Christmas has become something of a muddle. Traditional rather static figures rub shoulders with the manufactured excitement of computer-generated images and super-heroes. To 21st century eyes,  Father Christmas and God have identity problems. Angels hover in the wings.

They don’t actually have wings, of course. At least that’s what Vatican expert Father Renzo Lavatori says. He says they are more like shards of light, which I have to say I find quite a reasonable and attractive idea.

Novelist Tom Clancy said that the difference between reality and fiction was that fiction had to make sense.  He meant, of course, that what actually happens in life often isn’t easy to understand from a logical point of view.

What happened at Christmas was a one-off, and not easy to understand in the 21st century. For the record, Father Christmas is not God. He did not appear in the stable and nor did the Christmas tree.

So what did happen? Well, we all know that Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born on December 25. Intriguingly, it has been calculated that he was born on September 11 in 3BC, on the Jewish New Year. Jesus was a Jew, if you remember.

There were angels and shepherds, but one fascinating idea is that the actual birthplace was a structure called Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock, within the bounds of Bethlehem, where lambs were prepared for sacrifice in the temple at nearby Jerusalem. It’s mentioned by the prophet Micah.

The three wise men (or however many) weren’t there. They didn’t come along till Jesus was a toddler, probably between one and two years old. So no star. No celebrities either. No carols. Which of course is taking it a bit far.

Do these details matter? In the end it’s a question of belief. Do we believe in God, and if so, do we believe he became man? Is that a stretch too far? Is it possible? Does it make sense? Is it easier to begin thinking about something else?