Blessings to you all as we enter the festive season!
I don’t know if I’m alone in experiencing this, but my feelings about Christmas have changed as the years have gone by.
As a child there was no happier time of year for me. My dear mum kept a rigid and lovely routine. It began with an advent calendar and ended with a reading from her dog-eared copy of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. Closing my eyes, I can still visualise the illustrations of that little book. Those pictures always meant that the big day and a big present were just a sleep away.
Towards the end of my teenage years Christmas changed into a time of parties and excesses. The happiness remained. I found a new enjoyment in nodding off on the sofa after a second helping of Christmas pudding. There was a peace and a refreshing disengagement from normality. The deepest question I asked at Christmas was how can Jaws possibly bite through that steel cable? The keenest observation I made was that Roger Moore seemed to be wearing a ginger toupee.
More years went by and, during my second Christmas as an undergraduate, I became a Christian. As you might expect, all the gifts and celebrations that had gone before paled into insignificance compared with receiving the gift of salvation and celebrating God’s goodness. What a Christmas that was!
However, as my life progressed, theological studies played havoc with simple enjoyment of the season. Certain discoveries started to cast a cloud: Jesus probably wasn’t born on Christmas Day; western Christianity hijacked the pagan winter solstice festival and called it Christos Missa – Christmas; Father Christmas was a 1920s Coca Cola advertisement.
When Debbie (my wife) and I became parents, I even started to debate the morality of creating a little ‘Christmas magic’ for the kids. Debbie renamed me ‘The Grinch’ and told me very sternly not to ruin Christmas.
It got to the point where thinking about Christmas didn’t give me any joy and so I tended to put it out of my mind. When I entered full-time church ministry, it became the season of creative evangelistic opportunities – and little more.
Thankfully, our wonderful Father gave me an opportunity to rethink my grumpy approach.
It happened about 9 years ago, when I was asked to give a Christmas message on BBC Radio Norfolk. Debbie pointed out that delivering a tirade of misery over the airwaves would mean no return invite. I had to be positive about Christmas.
After some prayer, the penny started to drop that Jesus really is inextricably linked with the ‘true meaning’ of the season. By the end of preparing my talk, I was really looking forward to delivering it and I was starting to really look forward to the Christmas merriment that would follow.
Here’s what I came up with. ‘Twas broadcast on the night before, the night before, the night before Christmas of 2004:
As I’m sure many of you know celebrations around this time of year have gone on for literally thousands of years; certainly many years before Jesus Christ was physically among us.
In ancient winter times, pagans used to huddle in halls that were bedecked with holly and ivy and other evergreens. They put up decorations like this to remind themselves that even the freezing winter was unable to stop life continuing. It was a time when death was defied!
Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th, but I’m glad that He is associated with this time of year. I believe that the Little Child in the manger went on to become the ultimate example of defying death.
When people talk about the ‘spirit of Christmas’ they rightly think of peace and love and goodwill to all humankind; but they often ignore the ‘spirit of death defiance’ that has been there since long ages past.
Christmas has been altered and attacked in times gone by: it was even forbidden by act of Parliament in 1644. When Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector, Puritans declared that Christmas “gave liberty to carnall (sic) and sensual delights.” We can’t allow that!
But, I’m convinced that no attack on Christmas has been as serious as the modern ‘two-pronged’ assault that we are living through today: the removal of Jesus from our celebrations and the removal of any sense of ‘death defiance’ is catastrophic. We seem to be letting this sacred time become a soulless chore and nothing more than a break from work. It has potential to be a reminder to us all that real life is not easily extinguished.
I wish you all blessings of peace and joy. May Christ’s death defying light shine from St A’s this Christmastime and always.