On Christmas morning small children (and perhaps some not so small) will be waking up early to see what Father Christmas has brought them. Squeals of laughter and joy will ring around the house as they drag bleary eyed parents out of bed to watch them unwrap their presents. There is nothing quite like the sense of wonder, joy and eager anticipation of a small child on Christmas morning. Parents too (once awake), begin to enjoy the festivities, as they relax with family and friends throughout the day, celebrating with the traditional slices of turkey, Christmas pudding and cake. Perhaps this little introduction seems a little ‘rose-tinted’ and ‘sugar coated’ conveniently turning a blind eye to the sadness that some feel at Christmas and over-looking much of the world’s present suffering, but then, our society often promotes Christmas somewhat nostalgically as a ‘time-out’ – a time to escape the bleakness of the present, and to affectionately remember past joys combined with dreams of a better future. Perhaps the greatest examples of this, this Christmas, have been the television commercials for John Lewis and Sainsbury’s. The first encourages us to celebrate the innocence of childhood and cherish the wonderful imagination of a small boy. The second most poignantly encourages us to reflect upon the essential goodness of the human spirit, which overcomes adversity and even war as epitomised in the ‘Christmas Day truce’ of soldiers during the First World War. Not only do these commercials convey a sense of nostalgia, they use ‘Christmas’ to help lift our spirits and encourage us to think positively about who we are, our place in the world and what sort of world and values we aspire to (hopefully celebrated and endorsed by a suitable purchase from their respective stores).
Many no doubt, will treat ‘Christmas in Church’ nostalgically too – as simply another aspect of the traditional Christmas designed to lift our spirits and promote the concept of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’. They would be surprised then to discover that it’s perfectly possible to celebrate Christmas without really understanding it. The Bible is perfectly clear about this; “the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1.4). Christmas is about “the true light” stepping into the world, but the “world did not receive him” (John 1.11). The Christian knows that Christmas isn’t simply about little boys and girls being ‘good’, it’s about putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ who died precisely because none of us could ever be quite good enough. Yes the world can be very dark at times. How strange then, that so many should perhaps turn their backs on the one who is able to transform its nature and fill it with light and life! If we really want to be able to celebrate Christmas, then we need to look past all the sugar coated nostalgia and tinsel and start to really unwrap the true meaning of Christmas as found in the person of Jesus Christ. That will make those presents a real joy and a morning worth getting up for! Wake up! It’s Christmas!
On behalf of my family and all the parishes I represent, may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.
“To all those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1.12