Feels Like Christmas
My journey with Christmas over these past few years has been one of ebbs and flows just like my own personal journey. It is one of those times of year that can not be ignored whether you want to celebrate it or not. A time that seems to get earlier and earlier, with people decorating their houses from early November onwards, to the industry that I work in preparing the mood and telling you what to buy as soon as Halloween gets out of the door. The songs and carols have been playing over Asda radio for a good few weeks, our night work has been accompanied by Bing and Bowie as well as new classics from the likes of Low and Smith and Burrows. It feels like Christmas whether you want to feel like it or not. As a Christian you either seem to sit in one of two camps, and I have sat in both of them. It is a Christian festival that celebrates the birth of Christ and through carol services and the Nativity we have an opportunity to share the good news of Immanuel coming to earth and dwelling in flesh and living amongst us, a time for stories of shepherds and kings and journeys. Or it is a pagan festival that believers should avoid because it really has nothing to do with Christ whatsoever. Trees and wreaths are pagan symbols that the devil has carefully placed inside churches and homes and he is laughing at having such a foothold in our deceptions and lies. As I said I have lived in both camps and have enjoyed and endured the season in equal measure. Yet I stand at a place today where I have embraced the season again after going through a time of not sending cards and not putting up a Christmas tree. I embrace it not as a Christian festival nor a pagan festival, because surely that is entering into dualism and separation that in reality does not exist. I embrace it as a festival of joy and people. There are pagan elements and Christian elements, but more important than all that I believe is the element of being human and embracing mankind in their own personal journeys. And surely we are beginning to see that there is probably as much paganism in Christianity as there is in paganism itself, if not more, and if we are called to embrace creation and the creative order and rediscover our connectivity with nature and the earth then surely we have more in common with paganism than we would admit anyway.
He became flesh and dwelt among us. We have spent the next 2000 years trying to peel away the flesh so we can dwell amongst the heavens. I think we often have the story backwards. Christianity is about incarnation more than it is about anything else. About God walking the earth and through connectivity with flesh and worldly stuff restoring man. This season is a good time to remember that. A time when family and friends get together. A time when guards come down and people feel the glow and excitement of the build up and day of Christmas itself. A time of Christmas parties and frivolities. This Sunday I will be out for a meal and a drink with my work colleagues, a great time for conversation and laughter. Will I be looking for opportunities to share about Jesus? No, but if anyone asks me about my beliefs I will tell them, other than that I will be enjoying my food, my cider and the company. Building relationship with those I work with and spend most of my week with. Not seeing them as the other but as one of me, a part of me and my life. Not outside but inside of what God is doing. Being incarnation. Connecting with this in family life too. For some there may only be a couple of days off but it is time to chill out with the family. Those people who may be neglected through the year through our own busyness become the centre stage. Sharing precious hours of present opening and giving and receiving and feasting and watching TV. Yes it can also be a season of stress for that same reason but being together whatever that stirs is incarnation. It is also for many a time of sadness, loneliness, loss. A time to support and lavish love upon those who find the season difficult. Bringing joy, love, a shoulder, a listening ear into their lives is incarnation. We discover that humanity is tainted but beautiful with the image of God all through it like a stick of Blackpool rock.
It is a season when the power of story becomes evident. The Nativity can take centre stage without anyone flinching or becoming embarrassed. That Nativity itself is a story that has been changed and altered and added to and muddled and made more dramatic and mixed with other stories. Does that make it any less powerful? No because the story carries truth and the truth shines through. It becomes like a parable that contains seeds of love and the story inside the story. For those who want to discover more they will look further, for those who do not it has been a nice heart warming story. I love it that for once Christians learn the art of communicating as Jesus did, through story and narrative rather than three pointed sermons. It is here that I wonder whether the Gospel accounts themselves are just as full of exaggerated accounts of truths more than being factual accounts anyway. Isn’t that the way we all tell story anyway? It is not lying, it is bringing the truth of events in a way that grab people’s attention and makes the centre point more digestible. We are all at heart storytellers and not orators, and the Gospel was made to communicate in that way. From Genesis on oral tradition was the way truth was carried, or a version of truth anyway. Legends grew and were passed on down the generations, all containing a measure of truth but carrying a story that all could embrace. I think the Christmas story does that, it restores the storyteller amongst us. I find it interesting that in a time when Christians seem to be allowed artistic licence to lie, add fictional characters, exaggerate accounts, throw in what we would term ‘unbiblical’ concepts that we manage to communicate more truth during this time than at any other time of year. We also find a receptive audience willing to embrace the most impossible of events, a baby being born to a virgin, as the barriers are down and we actually act like we are interested in them and not wanting to preach at them. It is a shame that as soon as Christmas is over we get the sermons back out and communicate in such a non Jesus way again, thinking our professional sermons and exegesis of the Scriptures will win people with truth. They just want to hear a good yarn that deep inside has a message. Isn’t that what makes a good film? Those films that we will sit and watch at Christmas will be stories with a message, whether that be love or loss, or victory or battle, we relate to the story. May God raise up the story tellers in the Nation once again.
Imagination, awe, wonder and Child like fantasy. I love all this. The time when we embrace the magic. Christians are not very good at that because magic is treated as being suspicious, evil even. We then sadly close down the imagination and work within the concepts of words and concrete truth. We miss the colour and the sparkle and the creativity that should follow us around as our minds are awakened. I love it that C.S. Lewis and Tolkein had incredible brains and yet they allowed their creativity and imagination to run wild. Look at the homes that their stories have entered into. Stories that speak truth and communicate eternal things hidden amongst elves and talking animals and adventures of ordinary people in extraordinary worlds. Where is our imagination? Where is the awe that we see in a child on Christmas morning when they discover that Santa has been? Where is the wonder in the face of a person who sees the Christmas lights and feels the warmth of the glow? We are so ascetic that we want these things dispelled as quickly as possible so we can get back to reality. The imagination is such an untapped place of reality. We can travel where we want to, speak to who we want to, be who we want to. But we shut it all down because we need to grow up. My children are at an age now where they know the real identity of Father Christmas but my 21 year old and 18 year old still love to put a stocking by their bed, why? They hold onto the wonder of Christmas eve. They have found truth but still embrace the legends and the fantasy. This makes the truth to them even more awe inspiring. I think in reality it is only Christians that have decided to try and take Christ out of Christmas. Tried to bring separation. How can you put in someone and take him out when he was and is and is to come? The name is not the deciding factor as to whether He is there or not. They can call it Winter Festival of all religions if they like but surely God dwells in and through all of creation, or can’t you imagine Him there without the right name. For us this year we already sense the excitement of the season. We wonder at the lights and decorations, we are in awe of the story, and we embrace the time, whether it is pagan or Christian, because we know in our imaginations and minds that He is there in the midst. Incarnation miracle, you cannot get more creative than that, and at this time that neighbour or work colleague may actually be hearing the truth on the radio as the stars sing of Christ among the snow and the Santa’s. We may not have the snow and Santa may or may not be real, but the truth will always remain. Merry Christmas one and all….