It seems that Christmas has been coming for several months now. I saw a Christmas tree lurking in my local pub at the beginning of September – surely a record! And yet it doesn’t feel very “Christmassy” as we look at world affairs, politics and what goes on in the lives of so many people.
It doesn’t feel very Christmassy, of course, because we’ve made Christmas in our own image, rather than in the image and likeness of the very first Christmas. The very first Christmas was a tale of a birth – always a joyful event – in the midst of considerable human turmoil. It was not at all different from what so many of us are experiencing today; a real life born in the real circumstances of the day.
We tend to dress things up, and maybe there’s no real harm in that. For example, Christmas trees came quite late to the party – introduced by Victorians. Many years later they appear in my local pub as the symbol of the season!
We do this in so many ways. Let’s take Advent. No doubt inspired by those Blue Peter candle stands made out of metal coat-hangers (I’m showing my age, but do you remember them?), we tend to think of the wonderful season of Advent as a countdown to Christmas. But it has a far wider reach than that; it is a countdown to the time when God’s will is done here on earth as it is in heaven.
We dress up holy seasons, and we dress up holy places. One of the great excitements of today’s church is the way we are opening up the buildings to much more community activity. We have holy space and community space, and they rub along well together, which should not surprise us as Christmas people believing in the God who came to be among us.
Maybe we do it for ourselves too. I sometimes wonder whether we simply need to re-learn wonder and awe at God’s beautiful creation and re-creation. At the feast of Epiphany, the Magi come without commentary or explanation simply to worship and bring their gifts.
Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, these festivals give us a wonderful excuse to celebrate the God who shows us in Jesus just how much He loves us and reminds us just how valuable human beings really are. And if I was nudged to think about that a couple of months back in my local perhaps that was really no bad thing.
Archdeacon of Worcester