A few Christmases ago, one of my 'not yet' Christian friends invited me to spend some time with him and his wife over the 'festive season'.
He proceeded to tell me just how much they loved Christmas and how they took time to fully enter into the 'spirit' of the season.
"Christmas," he told me, "is all about decorating the big Christmas tree together: presents, parties, tinsel, food and the whole Father Christmas thing. We love spending time with special friends and family and eating Christmas pudding."
At this point he stopped talking, looked at me earnestly and suddenly blurted out: "Of course, it's also about the baby Jesus!" We still laugh about the moment that he remembered he was speaking to a Christian minister.
As much as I love the story of 'the baby Jesus', Christmas means much more to me than this. The incarnation reminds me that 2,000 years ago, a mind-blowing event occurred in human history: God stepped into helpless human flesh.
The implications of this one 'simple' event are numerous. However, one that resonates with me in particular (apart from the excuse to throw a party), is that it provides an annual, fixed reminder that it is possible to choose powerlessness (something that only the powerful can do).
When we each identify where/how we are powerful in relation to others and act (at least for a moment), to 'equalise' our circumstances, we 'celebrate' the incarnation in a very distinct way.
For many of my 25 years as a local church pastor, I often spent much of Christmas with people for whom Christmas day was a day like any other. No glitter, no gifts and no parties, just continuing hardship, uncertainty and pervasive inequality. I wasn't simply seeking to share resources, companionship and time; this was also an opportunity for my church members and I to make different decisions about how we spent our time and money.
Someone asked me just recently: "What should I buy for 'someone who has everything'?" I responded: "Why not 'buy' them into a child/village sponsorship scheme for a year?"
Contrary to what many have come to expect, Christmas is a reminder that in giving, we aim not to escape reality but to face it, especially where there is difficulty, failure, trouble, hardship and fear. As we do so, we are reminded that there is someone who is greater than our reality itself. Similarly, there is no situation or circumstance being faced in the world today that God through Jesus Christ cannot respond to. Indeed, there is no depth of human need, pain or distress that He hasn't entered into and overcome.
In the same way that God has shared our humanity and experiences, we can choose to do the same for others. For me Christmas is a time to reconnect and re-engage with the God who grounds timeless truth in concrete acts of celebration and revolution.
Kate Coleman is the founding director of Next Leadership and chair of the Evangelical Alliance Council