I think we can all agree that life often presents us with challenges but somehow at Christmastime, as loved ones gather together and lights twinkle brightly, the world feels more magical, people seem kinder, more forgiving and joyful. It's a season when we can hope and we're allowed to have faith: faith in Jesus and in the things we cannot see. But what if, despite all the obstacles, we continued to be our best selves throughout the New Year, wouldn't that be good. Perhaps this year we can try and hold onto the Christmas spirit.
But what is the Christmas spirit and how can we make it last? I think to preserve the Christmas spirit we need to embrace the truth of three simple words.
First, Christmas is about giving. Christmas is a time for open hearts, open houses and open wallets. It is a time when we put others first. Jesus is recorded as saying it is 'more blessed to give than to receive' (Acts 20:35). The rejected opportunity to give is a lost opportunity to receive.
In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is portrayed as a mean, selfish, unhappy old man who is only interested in making money and serving his own needs. As the story unfolds, Scrooge has a revelation of his shortcomings and is transformed. He begins to laugh and play, share and help. He is liberated from a life of self-centredness and becomes generous and happy. You can give without loving, but you can't love without giving.
And that great Bible verse, John 3:16, reminds us that 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' Giving - by God and human beings - is what Christmas is all about.
Yet there is another aspect. Christmas is about forgiving. If giving is about offering good things to others, forgiving is about overlooking the wrong things done to us. Forgiving is the forgetting of bad things done to us. It is a cancellation of debts (in every sense), a writing-off of grievances, a decision to ignore insults and a wiping clean of the slate.
We need to forgive our family, friends and foes. In the words of Francis of Assisi, 'It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.' Forgiveness doesn't make the other person right; it liberates us. Forgiving other people is one of the greatest proofs of our love. It is wiser to forgive and forget than it is to hate and remember. The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of our relationships and, therefore, to the healing and liberation of humankind.
Forgiving may seem marginal to the seasonal celebrations but if it isn't done then any Christmas spirit is going to be contaminated and you may find that (pun intended) your past poisons your present.
So giving and forgiving are the essential ingredients of the Christmas spirit. But can I suggest the third word about Christmas is finding? Children find presents at Christmas and, if you know the Bible story, you know that the shepherds and wise men found Jesus and rejoiced over what they discovered. The secret of Christmas is the baby himself and all that he means. To keep the Christmas spirit, we need to find the one who gives it. This season, give, forgive and find!