Christmas greeting of the Bishop of Helsinki, 2009
Around Christmas many Finns sit down to read an annual volume with three questions in the title: What, Where, When. This popular book is intended to relate the important events of the year just past.
Will the heart of the matter be revealed when we ask: what, where, when? What questions are needed in order to approach the heart of Christmas?
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The French movie director Jean Renoir once answered a question concerning the theatre. Which is more important, what or how? He replied, ”The most important is who.”
At Christmas the essential matter is who was born. The lovely old Finnish version of Martin Luther’s beloved Christmas hymn ”From Heav’n above to earth I come” expresses this point in its third verse: ”Rush in haste and behold, my soul, Who is laid in manger dark; He is thy Lord, thy Christ, the Son of God, thy Jesus.”
From the Christmas gospel we know what: the glory, joy, peace. And we know where: the province of Judea, Bethlehem, a stable. Finally, we know when: at the time of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius.
All of these items interest us only when we remember who we meet at Christmas. The crucial question is who is lying in the manger.
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Who is a basic everyday question. More important than things and matters is who we meet. The deepest levels of life are not found in things, locations or hours and dates. No, depth is found in who, what persons are close to us. In headlines, events are written with small letters, names are capitalised.
We can think about viewpoints and teachings, but talk with people, look them in the eye, embrace them. Ideologies and values are interesting. Yet, they are incapable of giving love or offering forgiveness.
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The heart of the Christian faith is an encounter with a personal God. The where and when questions are not pivotal. The most important issue is who comes to us. The names of God indicate that we are dealing with the God, who has a face, who desires and chooses us as His own.
Christmas means we gaze upon the child in the manger. We see Him on Christmas cards, in art, in crèches, and in our minds’ eyes in the Christmas gospel. What the ear hears, faith sees.
Therefore, look and see! ”He is thy Lord, thy Christ, the Son of God, thy Jesus.” He gives joy and peace.
Have a Peaceful Christmas!