Yesterday I braced myself and headed out to do my (very last minute) Christmas shopping. As soon as I stepped out of my front door, the wind and rain had turned my freshly-washed hair into a lion’s mane. I climbed onto a packed bus, which crawled through heavy traffic towards my hometown’s city centre. Two days before Christmas, I thought as I glanced at the other passengers, and no-one looked very happy about it.
During the ride, a man’s voice was heard on the driver’s radio a couple of times, warning him to park in a different bay than usual, though he didn’t say why. The second time the announcement was given, the woman sitting beside me told me she hadn’t understood, so I explained, then smiled and was silent. In front of me, Linkin Park blared through someone’s headphones. The minutes passed, and on this bus where nobody was talking, I knew God was nudging me to speak to the lady beside me again.
The thing with God nudging you to do something is that the longer you ignore it, the more uncomfortable you become. So eventually I brushed aside that typically British awkwardness that comes with the idea of speaking to a stranger, and made a mundane comment about the traffic. Immediately she began telling me about what a bad day she’d had already; the missed hospital appointment, the treatment she was going to undergo, the pain in her back every time the bus went over a bump. We chatted- in the few minutes before we reached the bus station, I’d learned a little about her family, her partner and her first marriage, and how much she enjoyed choosing presents for her two granddaughters.
By the time we parted she was smiling and upbeat.
I wonder how many other people on that bus needed to talk and to be listened to. Christmas-time is a stressful time for many, and for some incredibly difficult. Everywhere there are people hurting; lonely, broken, confused, angry people. Hopeless people. I could feel it all around me, on the buses to and fro, and in the shopping centre.
Later, I found out that a woman had fallen from the shopping centre’s multistorey car park and died- and then I understood the announcements on the bus earlier on. That car park has a sad reputation for suicides, but whatever the cause, it jolted me a little out of the festive bubble I’d been living in over the past few days.
I love Christmas. I mean, really love the whole thing- I get excited about decorating the house, the carols, the food, the loving times shared with friends and family. On Sunday we enjoyed the hospitality of church friends, and in a packed dining room we gathered around the piano and sang carols to our King. The sound was beautiful; not only the harmonies and familiar melodies, but the heartfelt praise and worship of a room full of people.
I love Christmas because it is the celebration of hope. Of God bridging the gap between Himself and us; of perfect, unconditional love and mercy. I embrace this time of year, as commercialised as it is, because it’s the good news of Jesus Christ, Hope of the Nations.
Jesus’ coming was foretold throughout the Old Testament, centuries before His birth. Then and today, it is the best news anyone will ever hear, but if we as His followers don’t live it out, they won’t know that. Representing Jesus means being uncomfortable, it means letting Him transform your heart to be moved for the broken and the hopeless . As I’m reminded at this time of just how amazing the story of Jesus is, and conversely how many people around me are suffering, it reaffirms the growing desire in my soul to be the ‘Light of the world’ Jesus commanded us to be- so that in me others see Him and want Him too.
In this season of sharing and giving, I’m reminded that life’s too short to keep this hope to myself.
Maybe you feel the same. I hope you do.
I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are in the world, whoever you are and whatever you’re doing.