I was brought up in an atheist household. Christmas was about decorating a tree and wrestling for the good bit of tinsel; debating over who has more roast potatoes on their plate when the wider point is that we all had too much food altogether; and gathering around the television to watch a film about Santa Claus. Jesus didn’t feature heavily for us, even though we were aware that he was the reason we were forced to spend so much time together.
Now, as a fully grown Christian man (sort of), I am fascinated by how many Christian values seeped into our lives – often without us realising it and particularly at Christmas.
At the start of Isaiah Chapter 11, we read about the vision that God had for the world. The imagery in verses 6-8 is poetic and heart-warming:
“… the wolf will live with the lamb … the cow will feed with the bear and their young will lie down together.”
Sounds like an ideal society – one of a community coming together in mutual security. Where does this all come from? Verse 4 gives us a clue.
“… with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”
The “He” in this context is Jesus. Isaiah doesn’t name him, of course, because he can’t yet – we are still in the Old Testament; but two of the gospels definitively place Jesus’ genealogy as being from the root of Jesse. Isaiah talks about a “shoot from the stump” of Jesse in verse 1. This is a clear sign of Jesus – an unexpected birth and the sprout of life from apparent death – a miracle.
The miracle of Jesus’ birth, and the exact thing that Isaiah is foretelling in Chapter 11, is what we celebrate at Christmas. As we return to our own roots, we gather together around trees and dining tables and television sets, sharing and loving on our friends and family members like no other time of year. When you think about it, we are rather like the wolf and the lamb, or the cow and the bear, practicing those same values that Isaiah talks about in this passage – Christian values, “the Root of Jesse” standing “as a banner for the peoples” (verse 10).
This Christmas I will be reflecting on how many non-Christians will revel in Christian values and pray that some of them may find a path through those values to the permanent love of Christ, not just a seasonal one.
Written by Alasdair Mackay, who is a member of Hope Church Newham.