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Christmas with its inextricable mixture of the sacred and the secular has a universal and eternal appeal, writes Garth George.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
And as I ponder the world into which Jesus Christ was born, I wonder if mankind is in any better condition today than it was at the time of that first Christmas 2000-odd years ago.
As with nearly all religious festivals, Christmas has over the centuries become an inextricable mixture of the sacred and the secular.
And that is what gives it, in this ever-diminishing world, its special and lasting significance.
For, with its unchanging theme of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people, it can be celebrated by everyone, irrespective of race, colour, creed or religious belief.
That is its universal and eternal appeal.
The annual celebrations will adjourn to the nation's homes during the weekend and it will all be very jolly, except for those families in poverty who can't afford to do it right and have to rely on charity; and the families who really hate each other's guts but will get together anyway because tradition demands it.
But for me and my Christian brothers and sisters in this land we used to call Godzone, this time of the year is hugely significant only because it celebrates the beginning in Bethlehem of the greatest story ever told.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
In those few words, recorded in the Bible, Jesus Christ sums up for Christians the full meaning of the first Christmas, of everything which happened up to the first Easter, and of Christianity to this day.
Those words contain for this nation's Christian remnant the very kernel of spiritual truth and the sole reason for this "festive season" - the celebrating, the gift-giving, the holiday.
The Bible records that the birth of Jesus Christ on the first Christmas morning was heralded by an angel who proclaimed:
" ...Behold I bring you tidings of great joy which will be for all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
Of Him, His parent Joseph had been told: " ... You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins."
His birth fulfilled a prophesy made about 600 years earlier: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated "God with us."
At the centre of Christian belief is that with the birth of Jesus Christ, God himself came down to Earth to dwell among His people.
The tiny hands that so entranced Mary and Joseph in the Bethlehem manger would one day reach out to the diseased, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the anxious, the grieving, the fearful, the helpless and the hopeless with an infinitely compassionate healing touch.
The tiny mouth which sought his mother's breast would later speak words the like of which had never been heard before; words which explained for the first time the reality of God's eternal, unquenchable love for all mankind, the depth of His desire to be fully reconciled with his children, and to be allowed to be a perfect father to everyone.
Jesus drew a verbal blueprint for a perfect world to be presided over by a perfect God, and then, on the first Easter, went to the cross, the tomb and resurrection from the dead, so that all mankind might have relief from sin and the fear of death and live happily ever after.
It did not happen then; it has not happened yet.
Misery continues to stalk the Earth; man's inhumanity to man continues unabated. Tens of thousands starve to death; thousands die in religious, ethnic and political conflicts.
Greed, economic inequity and a continued unravelling of the moral fabric of society brings another sort of anguish to millions throughout the world, including New Zealand.
Why? Christians will say that it is because now, as then, with the exception of a handful, men and women for whom Jesus Christ came into the world have chosen to ignore Him, to look upon the greatest story ever told as a fairy tale.
But as yet another Christmas Day arrives, millions will rejoice afresh in Jesus' words: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
And: "These things have I spoken to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
They know that God's promise to all mankind, of peace of mind through His Son, sealed on that first Christmas Day and renewed every Christmas since, remains open to all who will receive it.
Garth George is a retired editor. He lives in Rotorua.