Home / Comment / In brief

Reflecting on Christmas

Reflecting on Christmas

A selection of short reflections written ahead of Christmas 2023 by members of the Theos team. 11/12/2023


What do you do when you are waiting for a train? I scroll mindlessly through Twitter. Then again, I do that at other times too – and since it’s estimated that the average person spends 2 hours and 24 minutes on social media every day, I know I’m not alone in wasting significant amounts of my actual free time in ‘waiting at the station’ mode. What, then, to make of Advent?

This is the liturgical season in which we wait for Christ’s arrival. Spiritually speaking, waiting has far more in common with attention than distraction. The Psalmist describes the soul waiting for God “more than watchmen for the morning”, and the first Christmas story is full of people who do this preparation well. Elizabeth spends a lifetime obediently following the law and finds herself at the centre of a miracle in old age. Wise men patiently study the night sky and observe an unusual star even as it is “rising”. Righteous Simeon “looks forward to the consolation of Israel” and immediately recognises the infant Jesus as the Messiah when he is presented at the Temple. This is waiting redeemed, and these people are inspiring.

But God comes also to shepherds utterly terrified by the unexpected arrival of angels; to a young, unmarried girl told she will now mother the Son of God; to Joseph in his sleep. The spiritual life, I find, is one of striving and failing – and where it is failing, I take comfort in a God that bursts into the world whether it is ready or not. Emmanuel: God is with us.

Madeleine Pennington

The weird, frustrating miracle of the incarnation

I have a thing about the incarnation, which works out well at Christmas… To me, it’s possibly more important than the resurrection (although I realise that it’s not a competition) and I get distinctly annoyed when Christmas messages rush ahead to Easter. I want to linger with the mewling, puking newborn.

I think it’s because it feels more like our present moment. In Christian circles, it’s often said that we live in the ‘now and not yet’ of the Kingdom of God. But the hope of the ‘not yet’ can hang by a gossamer thread when we look at the world around us. In the ‘now’, hope often takes the form of solidarity; those who will sit in the dirt and darkness with us, who weep when we weep and rejoice when we rejoice. The incarnation is the ultimate act of solidarity: God with us; God is us.

It also resonates because it seems bewildering – like life, often.  Like God, often.  I can only imagine how it must have felt to those looking for a Messiah, under the grip of a powerful, brutal, occupying empire – and God gives them a baby in a shed. Weird and frustrating and mysterious – but also sacred. No event causes the word ‘miracle’ to enter the vernacular quite like the birth of a baby.  

I also love the utterly fleshly embodiment of the incarnation. I think about embodied wisdom quite a lot, working as I currently do for a think tank. I wonder why we subordinate its value to cerebral and even emotional knowledge in our rational, post–Enlightenment society. If it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.

Fiona Handscomb

Mere life is magical enough

The streets are filled with lights; the home’s begun to smell of mince pies and mulled wine; Michael Bublé has reappeared from his cave. Despite right critique against what secular Christmas has become, I cannot deny that I feel the magic.

This feeling has largely come, in recent years, from experiencing it through my son’s eyes. For his first Christmas, it was the unique ability of Christmas songs to soothe him on car rides. For his second, it was his discovery of the concept of gift–giving – or more excitingly, gift unwrapping! And now for his third, it has been the fascinating observation of trees being brought inside and decorated.

This sense of innocent wonder is brilliantly pictured in GK Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy, where he writes: “when we are very young children, we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough.” It is here, where the transcendent meets the mundane, that sacredness is found.

Amidst the choirs of angels and prophetic gift–giving, the true magic can be seen in God becoming one of us, and thus revealing God in each of us, and indeed in all of creation. From our daily rituals to the relationships we engage in, something of the divine is there to be grasped.

Knowing this, we can see that such magic is not meant only for this season. Rather this awe and wonder, joy and gratitude can be brought into the new year as we begin to see the world we live in through the eyes of innocence. As Chesterton goes on to say, “children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”

Daniel Turner

A Breach of the Peace

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favour rests.” (Luke 2:13–14)

This part of the Nativity story is set in the hills outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem. This year, Palestinian Christian leaders in the city have decided to cancel their Christmas celebrations as a mark of solidarity with their brethren in Gaza. 

Ironically, Jesus’ birth occurred at a time of relative peace in Palestine, albeit a peace held in place by the brutal Roman occupation. 

And then this happens. 

It is hard to imagine what a great company of angels looks like. In Luke’s account they don’t appear floating serenely in the air as they do on Christmas cards. Angels in the Bible tend to be firmly planted on the ground. It is perhaps better to picture a mob of angels milling in amongst the shepherds, crowding around them, carrying revolutionary placards declaring the sovereignty of God. The shepherds were terrified when the first angel arrived. What they said when the whole host turned up is not recorded. 

In the context of Imperial Rome, shouting “Glory to God in the highest”, was not a warm and comforting chorus for a Christmas carol, but a revolutionary provocation that could get you killed. It was a declaration that it is not the emperor who deserves the highest honour, but God. Getting caught up with a mob of angels chanting revolutionary slogans is like finding yourself swept along in a protest march with people calling for the downfall of the government. Singing “Glory to God in the highest” is a call for political and spiritual revolution. In some countries it’s still enough to get you killed today. 

Andrew Graystone

Christ is born, glorify Him!

“Today all things are filled with joy, for Christ is born of the Virgin!”

How strange this ancient proclamation must sound to non–Christian ears, both today and in centuries past. Why should a birth that took place over two millennia ago in a small town in Judea bring me joy?

For Christians, the Nativity of Jesus Christ gives every human being the opportunity to know God. Not just as the Creator, the Almighty who must be obeyed and whose commandments must be strictly fulfilled. No – we get to know Him as our Father. Christ God is born on earth as the Son of Man, so that we may realise that we are children of our Heavenly Father.

The Nativity of Christ is therefore the celebration of the sonship of mankind. It is the discovery that we are not alone, that there is no place in this world that has not been sanctified by God’s presence, that we only need to stretch out our hands and cry, “Abba! Father!” to receive help. And this is a great miracle indeed.

During the Christmas Mattins, Orthodox Christians sing these words of St Andrew of Crete:

“Make glad, O you righteous! Greatly rejoice, O heavens! Dance for joy, O mountains; for Christ is born! Shepherds glorify the newborn Child. Wise Men offer the Master gifts. Angels praise Him and sing: “O Lord beyond understanding, glory to Thee!”

The Joy is real. And so is the deep peace this message brings. How can it not be? What better news can we expect? The Nativity solves the root of all real problems: we no longer have to solve everything on our own.

So let us shout: “Christ is born, glorify Him!”

George Lapshynov

Interested in this? Share it on social media. Join our monthly e–newsletter to keep up to date with our latest research and events. And check out our Supporter Programme to find out how you can help our work.


See all


See all

In the news

See all


See all

Get regular email updates on our latest research and events.

Please confirm your subscription in the email we have sent you.

Want to keep up to date with the latest news, reports, blogs and events from Theos? Get updates direct to your inbox once or twice a month.

Thank you for signing up.