Do you remember the 2003 British movie, 'Love, Actually'? Hugh Grant as the dishy bachelor Prime Minister, Bill Nighy as the aging rock star desperate to rekindle a dying career with a Christmas hit. People falling in love, falling out of love, trying to remember why they fell in love in the first place, lonely people just looking for friendship, ordinary people reliving all the different variations of what drives all of us - the need to find the meaning of our own lives in the love that connects us to other people.
What makes the movie extraordinary, of course, is that it is set against the stress and hurry and empty kitsch of Christmas. Nobody feels particularly ho-ho-ho, somehow or other the fake bonhomie and the pressure of the festive season reminds everybody of how much in their own lives is empty and meaningless until - at the end of the movie in one way or another all the main characters end up at Heathrow, that massive clearing house of comings and goings and meetings and farewells, and it is there, in the middle of the throng of distracted stressed-out humanity, that each of the characters discovers what it is that makes them alive. Love - and the spirit of Christmas - creeps in unexpectedly.
We have of course just told the story of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, but what strikes me about it is that it isn't really an otherworldly story, for all its angels and guiding stars – the original satellite navigation system, I guess! It's very much a
this-worldly story about what is most important, about God's love for us that we experience in human love. Jesus is very big on love - before his death when he wants to give his disciples a final word of encouragement he says - love one another. When a political opponent questions him about the most important religious law he says – love your neighbour - and then in answer to the question 'well, but who is my neighbour? he tells the story of the Good Samaritan - the despised illegal immigrant who shows what practical love is all about. And just in case we haven't got the point yet he tells us - love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.
An impractical, other-worldly prophet? Well, maybe, but let's face it - as a species we are pretty good at ideology and war and hatred, we're pretty good at competition and greed and me-first – and how well does that work out for us? Let's face it, after 2,000 years of all that, Jesus' simple message of love doesn't look so impractical after all.
Despite the tinsel and stress, the simple message of Christmas, I find, has a habit of breaking through. Year after year. The smile of a small child - the beam of delight on the face of an aged parent. Or the young Muslim woman I saw the other day, in jeans and a hijab with reindeer ears perched on top. When she saw me in my priest's getup she waved and giggled - and we shared a Christmas moment. I hope
Christmas for you this year brings many such moments - the connections in which love breaks through and we remember what it's all about.