I wonder if the celebration of Christmas is beginning to change? ‘Why do I ask that?’ you may say. Well, there is a slight down turn in the retail trade indicates a reappraisal on prodigal spending. I have noticed a shift in attitude as well. I rushed into Tesco’s last Thursday to find it absolutely heaving. Abandoning my trolley near the fruit juice (not as popular as the other drinks), I fought my way through to the dairy section to encounter a complete logjam. No one could go forward or backward gridlock and not a little trolley rage.
‘Thank God this only happens once a year’ was muttered under every breath. That same morning I heard a story about a young mother at her wits end in a department store squeezing into a crowded lift with screaming twins who cried out in desperation. ‘The person who thought of Christmas should have been strung up’ ‘He was’ said a voice from the back of the lift.
I wonder if Jesus would admit to having ‘thought’ of the modern Christmas? It took the church 300 years before it even began to mark the occasion As for celebrating it in anything like the form we know today then that is mostly thanks to people like Dickens and Coca Cola hijacking St Nicholas by remarketing him as the Santa Claus we all love and know.
Well, I mustn’t go on or I shall be sounding like one of those ‘Grumpy old Men’ (I gather the women as usual were much funnier).
The upshot of all this is we are becoming more ready to appraise the way we celebrate Christmas and even to ask questions about it. I remember the Royle Family’ TV soap discussing turkey. ‘No. I’m not keen on it are you?’ ‘No, I’ve never liked it either’ ‘Well, I’ll get a leg of pork next year’ says the hapless mother. To which the chorus replies ‘Oh you can’t do that. It won’t be Christmas without a turkey, Barbara’.
Well, can we have Christmas without the Incarnation? I wonder. The celebrations are important and we need to get together as a family but we need also time to take stock. Often the family arrive and are all so exhausted that they simply fall asleep in front of the television. So unused to being together that they are at a loss to communicate. This is perhaps the biggest irony of all. The Incarnation is the celebration of the ‘Word’. Nothing to do with Microsoft which is the biggest single contributor to our inability to communicate locking us into isolation in front of our individual PC’s. The ‘Word’ or the ‘Logos’ in Greek is the express being of God, which is communicated in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Christmas is picture language for God being along side us.
So in celebrating Christmas we celebrate the entry of God into our space. We are invaded by the divine; our life is irradiated by the transcendent. We become children of God. This is cause for great joy. Angels sing about it, Shepherds are intrigued by it, the world tries to shut it out but animals share their home with the starry stranger. Last night we shared these insights with a group of twenty children and their parents crowded around the font in Ranworth church. We reconstructed the Christmas story. It came alive for us in poetry and the placing of the figures in that well known tableaux we call the Christmas crib. We painted an image of a stable ‘rude and bare crowded with beasts and the angelic hosts. Midnight mass is not dissimilar. Humankind in all its animal reality crowded into a darkened space ‘to behold his glory, that of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’
So let’s not only put the ‘Christ’ back into ‘Xmas’ let us also put the ‘mass’ back into ‘Christmas’. The ‘mass’ the meal in which we all share the life of God and become his body here on earth. ‘Glory to God in the highest’ sang the angels ‘and on earth peace to all people’.
If earth is to be transformed into heaven, if our lives are to have any purpose then we need to glimpse these things and act upon them. We need space to let God in. We need to ask questions to seek and search for meaning, to be willing to be surprised by the joy of discovering the divine in our midst. We need to recognise that ‘more’ and that God can be better encountered in the simple and mundane things like a manger. By this process, we shall be moved by words like this:
How silently, how silently
The wonderous gift is given!
God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.