CHRISTMAS is full of contradictions.
First, there's the claim that a baby is somehow God.
Second, the baby's mother is a virgin. Huh?
Third, the baby, the Prince of Peace, is born under a brutal Roman occupation.
And on it goes. The baby is in turn a refugee, a rabbi, a wanted man, a scapegoat execution, dead, but apparently alive.
Even our own Christmas is full of contradictions. We want to teach our kids moderation, but we eat and drink too much and spend too much on presents.
We love families getting together at Christmas, but it's also a peak time for family breakdown.
We sing about holly and ivy, the bleak midwinter and Frosty the Snowman as we swelter in 37 degree heat.
We learn, usually very quickly, that when you get a present you don't want, you say that you're extremely grateful.
Why do we put up with all this contradiction, all this hypocrisy?
Perhaps Dickens was right; it's all "Bah! Humbug!"
I think Christmas focuses our contradictions just a bit more than the rest of the year. Almost every aspect of human life is a series of contradictions.
Sometimes I think that what we call "maturity" is really learning to live with endless ambiguity.
Nelson Mandela has had the limelight recently. His courageous stand against racial inequality in South Africa put him in prison for nearly 30 years.
Sometimes I think that what we call "maturity" is really learning to live with endless ambiguity
But when he was finally freed, he channelled all his energy into forgiving those who had so damaged his life.
He knew the deep truth that contradictions are at the heart of a happy life.
He knew that unless he forgave those who had imprisoned him, he would always be imprisoned by hate and revenge.
He understood that the antidote to hate, revenge and despair was love.
And he knew that the key that unlocked real love was forgiveness.
The Christmas story takes us to this same heart of life. God enters our world as a baby, not to judge us, but to forgive and love us.
Mary accepts this birth because in spite of her fear and deep anxiety, she is overwhelmed by love.
All the broken, battered, contradictory characters in the Bible, and men and women of faith today, are caught up in God's overwhelming loving care for his world.
Through this child of Bethlehem, God is trying to remind us, not that we need to work harder, or achieve more, or complain less, but that we are deeply loved, and so freed from ambiguity and hypocrisy and contradiction, simply to be ourselves.
Happy and Holy Christmas.