December 2014 & January 2015

So what is Christmas actually about?

Let’s debunk a few myths – and I don’t mean those connected with shepherds and angels and wise men. Christmas is not ‘about ‘ children. The idea that celebrating God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ is somehow inextricably linked with the purchase of overpriced and overhyped electronic gadgets for young people clearly takes us into the outer reaches of la-la land. Nor is it ‘about’ families. It is obviously a good thing for people to come together to celebrate the birth of Christ: but, sadly, that is not what many people do. They come together to be jolly together, and, while that works out well for some, it certainly does not for others. If the manufacturers of overpriced and overhyped electronic gadgets for young people obviously enjoy the period leading up to Christmas, it is a sadly all too well attested fact that divorce lawyers have their boom time afterwards.

There is, of course, a strong hint as to what Christmas is about in its very name. In Christmas, Christ comes first, and so he should in our celebration of the feast. We are, after all, celebrating something wonderful, in the famous words of John Betjeman:

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

And it is that single truth – that God became a human being like us and for us in the form of a helpless baby born to an unmarried couple in the outer regions of the largest pagan empire that the world had known – from which all else flows. And that single truth gives greater joy than any of the fripperies with which we surround the day. And it is for that single truth that we gather together at Christmas time to give thanks - to give thanks to God for a gift greater than any which we humans could imagine. Giving thanks should be our automatic and spontaneous response, but al too often, it isn’t. Instead we take God’s gift for granted and as our due.

The church, to be fair, does not help. It clutters up the period leading up to Christmas, when we should be preparing ourselves for the great festival with carol singing and carol services and other things which distract us from the message of the day itself. But let us all try to make a resolution this year: we all, I am sure, thank the people who give us our Christmas dinner on the day itself: we all make sure, I have no doubt, that the sun does not go down on Boxing Day without our having thanked all those who have given us presents. Let us all this year make sure that on Christmas Eve at midnight or on Christmas Day itself, we make sure we thank God for the best gift of all. Details of our Christmas Day services are in the Newsletter and our Methodist and Baptist brothers and sisters will also be celebrating then. Do take the opportunity then of joining all the children of God and all the family of Christ as we celebrate Christmas together, putting Christ first.