December 2020 & January 2021

Saving Christmas

There has been much talk in the press and elsewhere of late about saving Christmas - by which is meant the ‘Christmas’ which involves family and friends being able to gather together and lift the mid-winter gloom by eating and drinking together and reassuring each other of their love for each other.And I would be the last person to decry the importance of that, in this year most of all.

But for those of us who try to follow Christ, the season of Christmas along with surrounding ones of Advent and Epiphany have a different - but not unrelated - purpose. For the season of Advent is about preparation, the season of Christmas is about celebrating and the season of Epiphany is about sharing.

At the heart of all of this is, of course, the central message that God is with us - as St John’s Gospel graphically puts it, that God has pitched his tent among us. And to absorb that properly, we need time to prepare ourselves, to make ourselves ready to have God living alongside us. And we need time for this because we know that God is living among us lovingly, forgivingly and compassionately, and, if we are going to be good neighbours, then we need also to live lovingly, forgivingly and compassionately. So we need time to look at ourselves, not judgmentally but honestly, recognising those times and circumstances when we have been insufficiently loving, forgiving or compassionate and be resolved to change - to become, if we can, more like Christ.

If we can do that, then we can really celebrate with heads held high the wonderful news that God is with us - that he shares with us our human lives so that we can share with him in his divine life now, that he holds us in the palm of our hands.

But simply to celebrate that great gift as though it were given just to us for us to keep to ourselves is completely to miss the point. The love of God is all about sharing not keeping, it is about giving not taking. So, once the decorations have been put away for another year, that is the time for us to share and to give - to spread the good news of Christ with others. And that is what Epiphany - the season that begins on Twelfth Night - is all about. It is about sharing with others that which gives meaning to our own lives. And that, of course, does not end when Epiphany ends. Our annual Christian celebrations are there as reminders, as nudges, about how we should be living our lives throughout the year.

And, while the pandemic will sadly affect the way in which we mark these occasions in church, it does not even begin to wipe them out. We still need to prepare ourselves, we still need to celebrate and we still need to share. And it is so important that we focus on that rather than on the restrictions which prevent us from marking these occasions in our usual way.

We will all, I hope, celebrate Christmas. But we will also, I hope, do all we can to mark the non-Christian celebration of Christmas, by reassuring our friends and family - even those, especially those, with whom we cannot be- that they are loved and in our thoughts. It might not be what we are used to, but the important thing is that people are reassured of love, not how that reassurance is given.

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