Christmas is so materialistic – there are lots and lots of things to think about. Presents: getting the right ones, for the right people. Meals: what do people want to eat, and should we encourage them in certain ways – healthy, luxurious, what the doctor says . . Cards: fancy ones, personalised ones, charity cards, e-cards, and all with or without a circular letter, or a few handwritten lines. Who is going to visit which part of the family when – is that a pleasure or a duty.
This isn’t optional. Even without Christian faith, Christmas is in effect compulsory. It does mean hard work, and getting it wrong can make difficulties, but in one sense it is entirely in keeping with the celebration and the Feast.
It was God who decided that things are important. He made them in the beginning, and despite the mess that followed when we insisted we knew better how to use them, sent his Son. Jesus was born into the middle of the muddle. He grew up, learnt a trade, joined in celebrations, hard times and stress. He had to deal with family (Mark tells us four brothers, as well as sisters).
So, do come and celebrate Christmas, remembering that God chooses to be involved with things as well as people. You may like to think how a time like this pushes us into what God is about. Faith can’t be just for services and “Church”; it is about what we do all the time, and how we do it. Faith has to be “personal”, but while that means it is mine by choice, it cannot keep relationships out of it. The way we deal with other people, at home, at work, even politically, is very much part of faith. So is our use of things – the way we drive, spend, relax . .
Perhaps, after the fuss has died down, there will be time for a bit of peace. You might like to think about how it all went. Was it a way God enjoyed? Did the things of Christmas help understanding of a God of things? As time moves on, will the things of miracles, and of the Passion, get us more involved.?
Andrew Knight ‘13
It won’t be long before we greet friends in the New Year with “Did you have a good Christmas?”, and try to mutter something positive before heading off into the January gloom. But what makes a good Christmas? – and how will you know if you have had one? Let me make a few suggestions, if only for you to take apart with the remains of the turkey.
A good Christmas manages to keep some focus on the reason for celebration. It is a great reason – God comes to us in human form, and joins in everything we experience – and deserves a celebration. Perhaps we are not very good at knowing how to celebrate well? We complain if it all gets too materialistic, but we do need to do something special, and festive.
A good Christmas may well involve family. Great if you have easy relationships and enjoy seeing more of them. (Some of us are lucky here!). But don’t dispair if not. A good Christmas might mean some bridges mended, or time spent giving someone a break or sharing a load. The holy family was not always an easy or harmonious place, if you read the gospels carefully.
Then what about giving and receiving. Why do we find one easier than the other (different people, different choice)? We possibly need practice in both, because both are important – spiritually as well as socially. Which is your forte? – and are you ready to practise the other?
That’s probably enough ideas for you to think about. Will you have / Did you have a good Christmas? – it is probably up to you. In the end, it is not about where you spend it, or who with, but much more about whether you are thankful for the central Gift, and able to reflect that to those around you. Come to think of it, they may have a good Christmas because of you – there’s a thought!
There was a Council of War in the Infernal Regions. Demons sat around, pondering how to suppress good news and bring cynicism and despair. “What can we do?” asked one, “The Story is too well known for us to pretend otherwise.” “But we must do something” quavered another, “because if they take it seriously . .” – his shudder implied visions of terror with all the diabolical consequences of allowing the purposes of Our Father Above to be known on earth.
Finally one ancient and gruesome demon rose to his hooves, waited for the hysterical cackles to subside, and spoke. “Do you know nothing?” he sneered. “For years we have worked to overlay this time with greed and jealousy. ‘My presents – their presents’, that sort of thing to goad tired and indebted parents to anger and distraction. It has been very productive. Most people now say they like *****mas, but really they are full of excellent guilt and fear. It helps them separate what they say is good and enjoyable from what they think they really want and do.”
There was a slight interruption while a junior tried to applaud, and had an arm torn off as a lesson in respect. Once order was restored, the elder continued, “What we have to do is to make sure no-one takes the story seriously. Let it be repeated until it becomes boring. Let everybody think they know it so that they stop listening. Let children be forced to perform it without being allowed to ask questions, and make sure that all their relatives come and watch so that they can say ‘It’s only for the children’.”
“Abysmal” muttered another in deep compliment. “You mean that we don’t try to suppress the story, we just make sure no-one listens and takes it seriously. We know the humans are stupid. As long as they can feel superior, they won’t ever see what they are missing.”
“We must be sure they do not,” butted in another, “for if they thought the innkeeper anything but commercially minded, the shepherds more than mindless yokels, or Herod unreasonable in his security policy -” he glanced round the dungeon, “- our reign of terror would be compromised”. The gathering ended in screams and darkness.
Was it just a Knightmare – or does it happen? AJK ‘12
Christmas is a wonderful joke! How else can you look at it when atheists and agnostics fight their way through the crowds to complete preparations to celebrate the feast of Christ? Cynics and secularists are bowled over by the urge to send cards, buy presents, and entertain family and friends to meals to respect a religious tradition they would usually scorn. Somehow, Christmas is not optional. You can’t say “I don’t do that”, at least, not while keeping your standing with family and wider community.
Why is it? It would be easy to point to the commercial pressure, the marketing opportunity seized with universal glee. But I suspect there is more to it than that. Even the most jaded mind is tempted to wonder if it just might, possibly, be, even partly, true. Could there be some heavenly body who cares? Who wants to get involved even though . . It is easy for us to dismiss the sentimentality of earlier generations. But not so easy to get rid of hope. We can pour the acid of uncertainty on myth and legend. But, if only as entertainment, a brief respite from the heartless reality of market forces, we pause to play with the idea of a visitor from a better, brighter place coming to share with us . .
Of course, it is materialistic. We are weighed down with things: food (too much), presents, and perhaps debt as well. God laughs, for he likes things too. He created them. He uses them for some of the most important things he regularly does for us. Bread and wine, sacramental reminders that things are important. Water for baptism, new beginnings, and a better stewardship of all that we control for a time. We don’t always get our relationship with things right. But they matter to faith, as well as to family and celebration.
Of course, there is paganism. Midwinter celebrations with murky origins and practices. God is always partly understood, sometimes deliberately misunderstood – but the light shines in the darkness, unflinching, showing up good and bad for what they are in truth.
Christmas is a wonderful joke! I don’t mean it isn’t serious – quite the opposite. It is so important that humour may be the only way in to something so awesomely different.
Andrew Knight ‘11
A letter for the December magazine must be about Christmas – or must it? Writing on a dark, damp November evening, my thoughts turn rather to light. For John the evangelist, the dramatic start to his book of good news is not (like Mark) the start of Jesus’ adult ministry, nor (like Matthew and Luke) the birth of a baby of promise, but the coming of light, which shines in a darkness that neither makes sense of it or does away with it.
Talking about light not only gives a new slant on Christmas, but also helps us to move on in January to Epiphany. The season so many miss is of great practical importance. The light has come – where does it shine, and what happens? How is it that some open up and blossom in its rays, and others are transformed?
I was talking to someone today who was telling me of a computer printer that refused to work. After several hours, she took a torch to shine into the inner workings, found the offending bit of paper jammed in the machinery, and was able to remove it and get on with printing. It sounds silly, in daylight or a well-lit room, to take a torch, yet it helps!
It sounds equally strange that the creator of the stars should send the light to earth in human form, but how well we understand. The light of Christ shows up things some would prefer to leave under cover of darkness. We know how good investigative journalism can lead to reform and improvement. We are living through a time when live pictures, of a battlefield, or officials controlling a peaceful demonstration, are widely and instantly available, and seeing them changes our perceptions.
But how about shining the torch at ourselves? Has the coming of the light transformed us, or simply shown us up? Can we react positively and honestly to that, so that we benefit, and work as we should. Whatever time of year Jesus was born, God comes to a world morally and emotionally in winter, and the light shines. Brilliant!
Andrew Knight ‘11
Christmas is coming, and before and after will be fought again the great spiritual battle between selfishness and love. You may not have seen it like that, but it begins every year with the appearance of Santas, and continues through the dark days of the New Year with credit card bills and holiday planning.
Selfishness mounts an attempt at takeover – what I want (even “must have”) in terms of presents, luxury, my own way. The battle of arrangements to make sure that I spend the holiday period where I want to, with the right people, and my choice of activity, television, food . .
Love is not taken by surprise. Quietly reminding us about how good it is to help, to give well and receive gladly, it offers corrections and new ideas. Love will provide charitable opportunities, reminding even the most resistant about family, forgiveness and celebration.
Let no-one imagine this is not a full war. There are campaigns and plots. Selfishness knows the power of love, and will attempt confusion, “If you really lurved me, you would do what I want!” she pouts. But lurve is not love, and love understands the evil of manipulation, and resists with graceful persistence, wanting the good of the other and not just a truce.
Love is ready to give, but knows the wisdom of balancing money with time and effort. Generosity can involve withholding one and using the others with care. Love works well with discipline and restraint, as well as celebration, but never indulgence.
So they fight again. Will my Christmas recognise and reflect the love heaven gives a selfish world, or will it get stuck in grumpy dissatisfaction? Will the New Year suffer post-party depression and debt, or rejoice in people, relationships re-enthused, and extra cause for joy? The battle may be unreported, but the results will be known.
Andrew Knight ‘09