So, as the old saying goes, “Christmas is upon us and the goose is getting fat” and, to stay in Dickensian vogue, “Bah, Humbug!” Sorry, but I had to get that off my chest! Seriously, I do find Christmas hugely stressful and have often wished that it would simply go away.
As a Clergyman I find that it is a time of high workload, with many additional pressures (as is also the case for so many in the retail trades). Additionally, because I cannot get away to visit anybody over the season, my large extended family always descends onto the Vicarage to share Christmas with us – and increase the domestic workload dramatically. Many of these activities are good and enjoyable on their own, but all too much to cope with in one sitting!
For so many others, also, Christmas brings its extra stresses. The pressure to spend too much, the accenting of loneliness for some whose lives are prone to isolation, the hyped up expectations that are all-too-often disappointed and the pressure to be endlessly sociable, no matter how tired and stressed you may be. As a Christian minister I often wonder what kind of a “beast” we have unleashed upon so much of the world, in this often misguided attempt to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
We do not actually know when Jesus Christ was born and, in its early days, the Christian Church took no interest in that matter either, Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection were so much more important and formed the core of the early teaching about Jesus. To those with an eye for textual analysis, the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (on which the modern Christmas story is based) are clearly later additions to earlier narratives, not originally deemed essential to the record; so why make such a fuss of the matter now?
Clearly, the vast majority of humanity (at least in the northern hemisphere) would be celebrating at that time, in any case, what is the festival of the “rebirth” of the sun, after the winter solstice. The Christians merely high-jacked the Roman solstice festival of “Saturnalia” as a convenient “hook” to hang Jesus’ “birthday” upon! So, if party we must, let’s party – but why not give clergy a break and celebrate Jesus at some other time?
So much for the “logical” approach! But history and custom is against such a point of view. Even with the largely secularist agenda of modern Christmases, it is a simple fact that Churches are often full over the Christmas season. Candle light, the nostalgia for old carols and traditional music, the sentimental experience of the “family” Nativity, or the “Crib” type of service, all continue to be popular and important celebration points for people who otherwise find it hard to engage with the year-round life and worship of the Church. Abandon these traditional celebrations and one risks cutting one of the few “ties” that keep present generations aware of Jesus Christ and, therefore, open to the possibility of God reaching out to them in a new way in the year to come.
So, Christmas is with us, and will stay there for us. An opportunity to engage with the humility of “God becoming a child amongst us”; vulnerable and dependent upon us and upon our willingness to care for and love one so vulnerable. Not a bad vision of where the true power of the Universe lies, in self-giving humility and the service that flows from love. An important lesson for an age so often beset by vanity, hubris and the violent abuses that accompany the worldly vision of power.
Here’s wishing you all a blessed, enjoyable and not too busy Christmas.
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