Growing up in the political uncertainty of Northern Ireland, the possibility of emigrating to Australia kept cropping up in family discussions. The promise of a better life Down Under (and the ten pounds assisted passage!) made emigration not only attractive but also affordable.
The more my parents spoke of Australian life – the strange animals, the exotic birds, the Southern Cross, the change in the seasons – the more fascinated my brother, my sisters and I became.
Long golden beaches, clear blue skies, endless barbeques and wall to wall sunshine, made life in the southern hemisphere seem like one long summer holiday.
Snakes, spiders, sharks and school were never mentioned, of course, in case the picture-postcard illusion was marred. After all, to persuade us to sever links with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends, my parents had to make life in Australia as alluring as possible.
In the mind of a small and over-sentimental child, however, there was one problem – one blot on this verbal landscape of paradise. There was no getting around it. In my thinking, Christmas would just not be Christmas in Australia!
Talk of eating turkey sandwiches on the beach, roasting potatoes on the barbeque and opening presents in the sunshine, just seemed wrong!
My ideal Christmas was curling up in front of an open fire, nibbling goodies from a selection box, after a meal of turkey and stuffing followed by Christmas pudding. Dark nights, cold days, scarves and gloves, hot roasted chestnuts (at least, their aroma) and a fresh fall of snow, were all essential ingredients of a perfect Christmas.
Turkey on the beach? It simply wasn’t right!
When my family eventually did get round to emigrating – after the ten pound ‘pom package’ had long gone – my early prejudice against the Australian Christmas was reinforced.
Call me sentimental, but Christmas was made to be celebrated in the northern hemisphere! Or was it?
What Christmas is all about
After becoming a Christian, I soon realised that my idea of Christmas was actually more sentimental than biblical. Jesus may not, after all, have been born on 25 December ‘deep amid the winter snow’, as the carol proclaims.
For all we know, he may have been born in the middle of July in the heat of the Palestinian sun. But that is not really important. What is important is that he did come into the world. That is what makes the difference.
All the things about Christmas I enjoyed so much, and which contributed to that warm fuzzy feeling, were not what it was really about. In fact those things may have clouded the real issues, and blinded me to the real meaning of Christmas.
Like a child opening its presents on Christmas day, I was more interested in the packaging than the contents – more concerned with the paraphernalia that surround Christmas than with the biblical message of Christmas.
Relationship with God
On the first Christmas morning, whenever it was, an angel suddenly appeared to some startled shepherds. ‘Do not be afraid’, he said, ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11).
Here is the real meaning of Christmas, the essential message that we should be celebrating – a Saviour has been born.
Then, as now, mankind was in big trouble. They needed to be rescued from themselves – because their sin had serious consequences. So God sent his Son into the world on a rescue mission to save us and bring us into a relationship with God.
Before the infant Jesus was born, Joseph was told: ‘Give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21; ‘Jesus’ means ‘saviour’). That is as true today as it ever was for all who respond to him in faith.
He not only forgives their sin but he accepts them as his children and promises them a home in heaven. What could be better than that?
Since I discovered this great truth as a teenager, Christmas has taken on a new meaning – its true meaning. It has taken on new significance – its true significance.
Don’t get me wrong! I still enjoy all the nostalgia that surrounds Christmas, the family gatherings, the trappings and the tinsel, but those are now secondary. The real reason to celebrate is summed up for me in the words of the apostle Paul:
‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15).
And Peter adds: ‘For Christ … suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).
With this great truth in my heart, I could even enjoy turkey sandwiches on the beach, opening my presents in the sunshine and singing carols in the heat!