Needing something sober to reflect on as Christmas day dawned, I read the series of letters that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to Eberhard Bethge and to his parents in Berlin over Christmas 1943. They are contained in the wonderful Letters and Papers from Prison, which Bethge compiled in the 1950s, later enlarged and which is now a classic of the spiritual life.
Bonhoeffer was in prison in Tegel in Berlin, and at the time of writing in December 1943, was finding the strength to function as a pastor and a colleague to those in prison with him, though he found the uncertainty and the worry of others on his behalf a great trial (especially in a city that was being regularly bombed by British and American planes), and he writes movingly of having dark times at night that were barely kept at bay by the recitation of hymns. Shades of Psalm 63.
Reading the book puts this wonderful festival in full perspective – intimate and glorious, as different from the cultural rubbish and outpouring of false and commercially-induced joy as it is possible to imagine. It also shows the foolishness of not celebrating and rejoicing in every great gift that God gives us in one another, in family, in each moment of joy that we experience.
Last night, midnight communion gave the chance to stand before our great and holy God and worship, with nothing to offer but ourselves, and to remember, on this day, to be present to his glorious presence.
This is what Christmas means. God residing with man, each in correct relation to one another, present to the presence, quietness and joy.
Happy (in every deep meaning of that word) Christmas.