While all his workmates downed their beers and wines, Rick drank lemonade. The Friday night drinkies flowed a little more freely than normal. Christmas was only a week away and everybody was getting festive. Drinking lemonade was part of his Christian witness in the workplace. In fact, it was just about his entire Christian witness in the workplace – that and not laughing at some of the crude jokes.
It was all small talk but it was fun. It was fun until Brian said that he hoped they all received the Christmas presents they had asked Santa for because that was the main thing about Christmas, wasn’t it. Everyone laughed except Rick who saw an opportunity to extend his Christian witness beyond lemonade. “That’s typical,” he said. “The real meaning of Christmas has been completely lost.”
There was an awkward silence before a conversation started about what the Met Service was predicting for the summer.
Things got back to normal. People chatted to Rick. They liked him. They had just been a little taken aback by his abruptness – again.
After people had drifted away only Rick and Seth remained, putting the bottles in the bin and vacuuming the floor. When they’d finished, Seth asked, “Rick, can I ask you about what you said tonight?”
Despite all the small talk, Rick knew which comment Seth was referring to. Was this trouble? Or did Seth really want to know about Jesus? “Sure”, he said somewhat hesitantly.
“I guess I have to say that I found it a little insulting – a little patronising. I take it you are a Christian. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that before. Every year, it seems to me, Christians complain about the real meaning of Christmas being lost. Isn’t that insulting to everyone else? You assume we are all materialistic Philistines, addicted to consumerism, and that we don’t care about anything deeper than that.”
Rick liked Seth. He was always thoughtful and helpful. The fact that he had stayed to tidy up said a lot about him. Rick wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Seth, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be offensive but it does worry me that we do all this partying and buying and eating and we have forgotten what it is all about.”
“But that’s my question” Seth interjected. “Have we forgotten? Isn’t it possible to celebrate and have some fun and still have a set of sincere values? Having fun with friends doesn’t necessarily mean that we have lost our souls, does it?”
“No, no, I don’t mean that. I’m not criticising you or anyone else. I just think we have lost sight of the main thing. We’ve focussed on a whole lot of other things and no longer know what the main thing is. I know what you mean. It is not all bad. Having fun together is great. But it’s not all good either. You saw how some were drunk tonight. Who knows what some of them are getting up to now. And a lot of our Christmas is centred around accumulating more stuff and eating too much.”
“Yeah, yeah, I understand that but I still think that many of us would have the same values as you – or, at least, very similar. You talk about the real meaning of Christmas, and you don’t think I understand it. So, what is that for you? Just a minute! Let me see if I can guess. ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’, right?”
“Yes!” said Rick, somewhat relieved Seth had mentioned Jesus and he hadn’t had to.
“But that’s my point,” Seth responded. “Many of us agree with what Jesus taught. We might not call ourselves Christians but we have Christian values. You might even just call them human values. I mean Jesus was big on love, wasn’t He? Well, I agree with that. For many Christmas is about family. Jesus was in favour of family. So, what’s the issue?”
Rick wasn’t sure what the issue was. Seth clearly wasn’t ignoring Jesus. So, what was missing? Or had Rick got upset about nothing? Maybe things weren’t as bad as he had imagined.
“Yeah,” he said just to give himself more time to think, but Seth was on a roll.
“The real meaning of Christmas. I don’t know a lot about Christianity but as I understand it, Jesus’ core message was about love, yes? So, is that the real message of Christmas: love one another? We do that.
It sounded reasonable but Rick still felt uncomfortable. And he felt he should have been able to give an answer. What would he say was the real message of Christmas – in one sentence?
Seth continued: “People talk about “the spirit of Christmas”. I don’t know – is that a biblical phrase? Anyway, as I understand it, the spirit of Christmas is about good will. It’s about being kind, forgiving, making sacrifices for other people. It is a reminder to treat people well. Maybe all the rest of the year we lose sight of it a bit but at Christmas we are reminded to make that extra effort to honour people and to be generous. Presents are part of that generosity, aren’t they? What’s wrong with giving?”
Rick couldn’t think of anything the Bible said against giving. On the contrary, God gave; the wise men brought presents; Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. What was wrong with what Seth was saying?
“Seth, can we have this conversation another time? I hear what you are saying. Maybe I have been overly grumpy. I apologise. And yet I kind-of feel that there is something I’m missing but I am too tired to figure out what it is.”
“Sure. Look I didn’t mean to back you into a corner.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s a good question. Enjoy your weekend. Maybe we can talk again sometime.”
“Sure. Thanks for your help tidying up. See you on Monday. A short week and then we can celebrate Christmas. I’m hanging out for a holiday.”
It occurred to Rick that, with his outburst, maybe he hadn’t shown as much of the Christmas spirit as he should have. He needed to model to his workmates the very things Seth had mentioned – treating people well, kindness, respect… He resolved to be a nicer person in the office. That would please Jesus.
That was good in theory except that the week before Christmas had a few extra tensions. Rick had one client in particular whom he had promised he would have samples to before the end of the year. He had been slow doing his part of the work but now other people weren’t helping. Stephanie in the printing department seemed to be more interested in flirting with everyone and, when she was working, his job always seemed to be at the bottom of the pile. Was she doing it deliberately? On the Monday, Rick called her a couple of times and she just said that it was in the queue. She would do her best.
Because of his decision to model the spirit of Christmas, Rick remained very self-controlled. He thanked her for her work and wished her a good day. But the others in the office heard his sighing and muttering when he hung up – and knew to keep a wide berth.
By Tuesday there was no progress. Christmas was on Friday and he didn’t want to get the material to the client on the last day of the year – Thursday. That meant there was only today and tomorrow. And Stephanie didn’t seem to be in any hurry. He rang her again and got the same response.
On Tuesday afternoon, he rang again. When her answer was exactly the same, he got exasperated. His voice rose almost to a shout as he reminded her that she wasn’t on holiday yet and there was a lot riding on this. She promised he would have it by the following morning.
“Your promises aren’t worth a tin of fish,” he shouted. “Do you think I’m an idiot? Do you think you can just fob me off with empty promises?” She hung up and Rick let out a frustrated growl.
When he looked up, Seth was looking at him with raised eye-brows. “Are you OK?”
“Drop it, Seth. It’s none of your business, all right? I can handle my own stuff!”
Early the next morning, the samples were ready, and he got them to the client by lunchtime. He joked along with them and enthusiastically wished them a merry Christmas. But inside, he was confused and unhappy. Why, in the very week when he had resolved to show goodwill to all people, had he failed so badly – failed in a way that was obvious to the whole staff? He could maintain a cheery exterior some of the time but, it didn’t take much for that exterior to crack and his nasty side to be revealed. He knew the truth. This wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t even rare. Everyone knew that he could explode.
Rick was glad when Thursday lunchtime arrived and they all wished each other a merry Christmas and left. While everyone else was beginning to relax, enjoy the holiday feeling and enjoy each other, He faced the ugly truth about himself. His true nature had been apparent to everyone.
That evening, still dejected at his failure – and his bad witness – he got out his Bible. Did this Christmas business really make any difference at all? It was all very well Jesus telling us to love one another – even love our enemies – but what if he couldn’t do it? What he wanted to do, he simply couldn’t do. What sort of Christian was he?
He thumbed slowly through the Bible. Where was the Christmas story? He assumed it must be near the front of the gospels. There were only four to choose from and he did, pretty quickly, find it. Angels, a census, Bethlehem, shepherds, wise men. So what? How could long-dead shepherds on the other side of the world help him? He couldn’t even find any wise saying from these so-called wise men. He could do with a little wisdom right now – something that would help him turn his life around.
Good news of great joy, the angels had announced. But what was the good news? That a baby had been born? Really? That is good news. Yeah, lovely – lovely for the parents but how was it good news for him? How was the birth of this baby good news of great joy for all people?
He read again the words he had heard since he was a boy. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
A what had been born? It didn’t say a teacher had been born. It didn’t say a great example had been born. It said a saviour had been born. He flicked back to some words he had just read in Matthew. The angel said to Joseph, “You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
What was Christmas about? Nowhere in the Christmas story, Rick observed, was there any teaching about how people were to live. He could find nothing about treating people nicely or about family. Those things simply were not part of the Christmas story – well, not the biblical version anyway. It wasn’t about us being good, moral, upright people. It wasn’t about what we should do for Jesus. It was about what Jesus would do for us. It wasn’t about great teaching that he couldn’t live up to. It was about being rescued from our sins. The real Christmas message was that God had provided a Saviour for sinful people. He didn’t need instruction. He needed salvation. He needed to be forgiven and to be changed.
That night, Richard Thomas Wilson got on his knees and prayed, “Jesus save me. I cannot do this alone. Save me please.” And that night, he slept like a baby.