You can read the Christmas story in different ways. I read it (and I will argue with anyone, any time, pretty much anywhere that this is the correct way) as a record of events which happened, at a particular point in time, and a particular place in space.
But if you’re not prepared to engage with it in that way, there is still a lot to be read, and understood. Shepherds on the hillside choose to believe, rather than to doubt. But their belief is exercised not in remaining on the hillside saying “that’s great, now we believe — there’s no point going to look”, but rather in going to the stable. Equally, the wise men, astrologers from the East, people whose own belief-system was almost certainly at odds with the nation they were visiting. They believed, and they went. Angels in the sky, announcing a new deal: “peace and good will”.
I expect the usual flurry of emails telling me that the effect of Christianity over the centuries has not always been peace and goodwill. Again, if you want to pick the time and the place, I’m happy to have the discussion with you. But it’s fair to say that, in all of our best endeavours, we only achieve a part of what we seek.
Nonetheless, the belief which puts itself into action, getting to grips with the peace and goodwill, in all of the messy, three steps forwards and two steps back, complicated, difficult and fractious world in which we live, is infinitely preferable to the cynicism which says: “I always knew they were all crooks — why bother anyway?” or “it probably won’t happen in my life time. Why change my ways now?”
Over the past ten years, and more likely the last forty, we have increasingly put our faith in doubt. We would prefer to not believe and not be disappointed, than to believe and act on that belief. I could add a list of all the social ills that stem from that, but you can probably make up your own list, and not have to put up with mine.
I want to wish everyone who reads these pages peace and goodwill this Christmas. But my wish for you — for everyone — is that we can begin to put aside our faith in doubt, and start on the active belief that leads us to change our world. Because it does need to change.
Peace and goodwill, then.
And a happy Christmas.