As a linguist, I would love to invent a new word. Imagine having your own word in the dictionary!

‘Utopia’ was a book written by Thomas More in 1516, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. The word itself means ‘nowhere’ and perhaps that’s much nearer the truth: this idealised, perfect society doesn’t exist on earth, and never will. The word, however, is firmly embedded in the English language, along with the adjective ‘utopian’, meaning ‘modelled on, or aiming for, a state in which everything is perfect.’

I think the world portrays a Utopian view of Christmas which is a gross distortion of reality. In this Utopian Christmas, everyone gets on with everyone else, there is good cheer everywhere, along with masses of perfectly cooked food, jolly games, excellent TV programmes, stunning presents, pleasant congeniality and conviviality and perfect peace. There is snow outside, glittering fairy lights inside, harmony, joy, smiles and laughter. Life is pristine and gleaming.

Many people buy into this vision and work hard to achieve it. But reality is not always quite so obliging. Loneliness, bereavement, debt, unhappiness, family breakdown and poverty are the reality for many people. It’s not so Utopian for them.

I think the birth of Christ is far more closely linked to reality than it could ever be to Utopia. Jesus was born in a dirty, smelly stable, surrounded by a cacophany of noisy animals, because there was no room at any of the hostels and inns for Mary and Joseph. No ‘’ for them, no forward planning or 4 star accommodation. The cold’s not so inviting when you’ve travelled a long way in it! I think many of the Christmas carols we sing are more Utopian fantasy than theological reality. ‘Silent night’? I don’t think so. ‘The cattle are lowing/ the baby awakes/ But little Lord Jesus/ no crying He makes’? I don’t think so. I’m sure Jesus was an ordinary baby in that respect, yelling His head off at being rudely disturbed! What about the modern song ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’? Can you honestly sing that and not be worrying about cooking or shopping?!

Some may prefer the idealised version of Christmas, where everything is glossy and perfect. If you like that, that’s up to you. But I am concerned that when reality hits, this version of Christmas crumbles, and with it, some people’s hold on Jesus crumbles just as quickly.

The reality of Christmas is that God Almighty entered our world in human flesh to be ‘Immanuel’, ‘God with us.’ God with us in the pain and dirt and suffering. God with us in the poverty, despair and hopelessness. God with us where we are, bringing hope, peace, joy and love. He is mighty to save. He is our perfect High Priest, able to sympathise with us and enter into our suffering because He knows it intimately.

Let’s be realistic about the time of year, honest about our own faults and failings and firmly convinced that Jesus is relevant today, to everyone, no matter what their circumstances or feelings. Christmas is not ‘for the children’, some Utopian fantasy that we need to protect us from the harsh facts of reality. It is for all of us, that poignant reminder that life on earth is not Utopian, but the reminder that we have a Saviour who can lead us into life everlasting and who is preparing for us a home that is, indeed, perfect.