By Phil Moore
Christ Church, York
It's easy to forget what Christmas is all about amidst the food and presents
Call me clueless, but watching my first child's birth, years ago at Naburn Maternity Hospital outside York, I didn't realise how much life would be transformed by his arrival!
The care we received then contrasts starkly with the circumstances in the Christmas story.
Mary and Joseph, forced to travel to Bethlehem for census requirements of the Roman occupying power, found nowhere to stay. Heavily pregnant, she finally gave birth in an animal shelter.
A trough made a makeshift cradle. That alone doesn't make the story special: too many children today are also born into poverty.
Mary wasn't pregnant by her own husband, but that too isn't enough to make the story exceptional. There are surprises though. Mary, insisting she was a virgin, claimed the child was from God. Joseph unexpectedly agreed, saying he'd had a vision and Mary was right.
Common sense? Not really! Added colour comes with shepherds sent by angels to see the baby and wise men, following a star.
But what's it really all about?
God joined our family at Christmas so that we can join his. For me, that's the real point of it. The hint lies in the two names the baby was given: Emmanuel, meaning 'God with us' and Jesus, 'God saves'.
Mary finally gave birth in an animal shelter
Today, Yorkshire may not be struggling under Roman occupation, but we do still struggle: with personal issues; family worries; regrets; unemployment; finance; illness and bereavement; fear of terrorism on the one hand and climate change on the other.
At Christmas God, in Jesus Christ, got involved with the pain and tears of ordinary human beings. He's still involved - 'God with us' and 'God saves': turning lives around.
Watching the birth of that child, many years ago in Bethlehem, they were clueless about how much he would change the world.
'God with us'. 'God saves'. In one word: 'Christmas'.