[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IN0W3gjnNE]

It can’t be a year can it?  Really?!?  We find ourselves once again in the middle of Advent making that almost inevitable journey towards Christmas.  Some of us have time-honoured traditions that we follow each year.  You will probably recognise these as part of your yearly routine as you prepare for the feast of Christmas.  Advent is a time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the twelve days of the Christmas season.

What do you mean this doesn’t sound familiar?

It seems there is an increasing disparity between the Christmas the church historic celebrates and the winter festival upon our TV screens and high streets.  At the heart of the two thousand year tradition was the tale of a child.  Christ’s birth tells of the incredible love that God has for the world.  As God stepped into His creation he began an earthly life in inauspicious surroundings placed by His teenage mother into a manger.  He joined a world marred by inequality, poverty and violence.  The Divine Christ Child came bringing a promise of hope, and a message of revolutionary love.

So how did we get from the Christ Child to 2011 and how has the world been changed by this message of hope?  Within the last few generations society’s structure has changed and we now live in a consumerist culture that drives us with a constant pressure to buy, to use and replace the things we have in our life.  As we look to the world around us we see an explosion of winter spending that is focussed upon this word Christmas.  What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a saviour has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, crowded streets and shopping lists. 

When it’s all over what are we left with?  Many of us return to those same shops to exchange the gifts we didn’t want.  We live in fear of the post coming through the door and the looming debt that will take months to pay off.  As we move through January is there an empty feeling inside of missed purpose? Is this what we really want out of Christmas?

What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?

This isn’t about being Scrooge and saying “humbug”.  In fact it is the polar opposite of that.  Scrooge wanted to get as much as he could out of the world and store it up for himself at the expense of those around him.  Christmas is much more significant than that.  God’s gift to us through Christ is a relationship built on love.  With this in mind, it is easy to see that Christmas would become the time when we seek ways to show our family and friends how much we love them.  What if we took that incarnational gift of love God gave us in the Christ Child as inspiration for the gifts we give this Christmas?  What if Christmas became 12 days dedicated to the significant people in our lives.  As children take time from their studies at school and people take time off from work, time becomes the real gift that Christmas gives us.

No matter how hard we look around the shops, we won’t find this gift of time:

“Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mum a letter. Time to take the kids sledging. Time to bake some really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?”Advent Conspiracy

As the world looks to the issues of wealth and poverty I encourage you to get together and give a gift that is meaningful.  Why not give a gift that is significant?  Why not have a look at Christian Aid’s wishlist at http://www.presentaid.org/ ?

A gift like this will transform someone’s life!  Surely this is the real meaning of Christmas? 

So…….   If you like me a little, why not buy me a goat.  If you like me more why not buy me 24 ducks?  If you like me a lot, I’ve always wanted to be a herdsman…..

And if you’ve already bought something, don’t stress about it – that would be self defeating.  And if you do buy me a goat, don’t do what my mate Tim did one year and panic after buying goats for his family and buy “proper presents” at the last minute.  This is a “proper present”.  This will make me happy.  I will genuinely enjoy opening them and seeing what is inside!

Why not give a gift that is inspired by God who cared so much about humanity he took the risk of taking human flesh and living amongst us.  He came bearing a message of hope that can still change the world for the better even two thousand years later!