Chaplain’s thought for the week
Revd Tom reflects on different responses to the Christmas message
The best Christmas stories, it seems to me, examine the question of the human heart and whether even a cold heart can be melted by the Christmas message, which is of course, the presence and love of Christ.
A favourite of mine is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which the cold-hearted and miserly Scrooge is changed by visits from three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. By the end of the story his heart is melted, and he becomes open-hearted, joyful and generous.
Another classic is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. In the story, we meet the Grinch who lives just north of ‘Who-ville’, where the little Whos live. The Grinch is a grouchy, cave dwelling creature who hates Christmas because his heart is ‘two sizes too small’. The Whos, on the other hand, love Christmas, and the thing that the Grinch hates most of all is that each Christmas, after opening their presents and eating their feast, the Whos stand singing together, hand in hand. And so, the Grinch decides to dress up as Father Christmas, and makes his dog look like a reindeer, in order to steal all of the Christmas presents down in Who-ville. This is exactly what he does until every last present is taken. He makes for the top of Mount Crumpit in order to dump all of the presents, and as he does so his listens out for the sound he longs to hear: the sound of the Whos waking up to find all of their presents gone. To his amazement, however, this is not the sound he hears at all. Instead, he hears the Whos all singing. He hasn’t stopped Christmas from coming after all and he realises that Christmas means far more than presents. The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes larger and he joins the Whos for their Christmas celebrations.
The question for each of us which is posed in these stories is this: are we prepared to have our hearts enlarged by the Christmas message?
In the first ever Christmas story, we meet a character who is even more cold-hearted and brutal than Scrooge or the Grinch put together: King Herod the Great. History records that Herod was a firm and ruthless ruler who even ordered the killing of his own wife and some of his sons. So when the Wise Men, who have been following a star to find the new-born Messiah, and ask him how they can find the King of the Jews, he is seething. He sends them to Bethlehem, where it has been prophesied that the Messiah will be born, and tells them to send word back to him, ‘So that I too may come and worship him,’ he says cynically.
When the wise men trick him and return a different way home he flies into a rage and orders that every child of two years old and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region should be slaughtered. The new-born baby Jesus, whose family managed to escape to Egypt, did not enlarge Herod’s cold heart. In fact, Herod’s heart shrunk even further.
The Nativity story presents a contrast between two completely different reactions to the Christmas message: there is the response of Herod, who like the Scrooge and Grinch after him, is obsessed with own self, with his power and status – there is no love, peace or generosity in his heart; and, on the other hand, there is the response of the shepherds and the wise men, who have the capacity for joy in their hearts and generosity as they come bringing gifts.
Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to the Christmas message. Can we enlarge our hearts so that they overflow with love, peace, joy and generosity?