How strange it feels to be in the third week of advent, and yet so close to Christmas Day, oddly, with the exception of the coming weekend the flurry of Carol Services is now behind me and I find myself with time to reflect this morning happy in the knowledge that I will not be singing Once in Royal David’s City or Away in a Manger again this season for the choice will now be mine! Now you may think I am being the Grinch, but I have good reasons for not liking these carols and will go on to explain that later.
As I stood to preach yesterday I was aware that for so many this season is a rush and a blur of visits and events, that there are many, many pressures to produce the perfect meal, gift, decorations, the list could go on. We are bombarded with perfect images through the media, so much so that I wonder how much new furniture is sold on the illusory promise that it will somehow make your Christmas celebrations even better!
Creating the perfect event can of course creep over into our church activities and while there is rightly a fuller calendar at this time of the year I wonder if we always think deeply about the message we are sharing, I have certainly been challenged this year to concentrate not only on the babe in the manger, but the possibility offered through the incarnational story of the Christ being born even today, among and within us, and while I am loathe to use the term “born again”, I really do believe that the new life an openness to the move of the Spirit offers us a chance to enter deeper or even for the first time into the Christ-light, and the Christ-life, and to find for ourselves, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God.
So back to those carols and why I don’t like them, what I don’t like is their moralistic tone, the virtue of a “non-crying baby”, and the instruction that, “Christian children all must be mild obedient good as he” are frankly nonsense and say more about control and a demand for certain behaviour pattern than they say about Christ. The fact that I speak to so many people who have been put off church because of expectations that were placed upon them as children, harsh words spoken and demands made is evidence of that. The fact that that can still happen today is also evidence that our expectations for, and understanding of what it means to be drawn into fullness of life are still missing the point!
As I consider my own preparations for Christmas Day I realise that I am caught between what I do and where I want to be, yes I too fall prey to the pressures that I want to avoid, and don’t get me wrong, I love lights and I love the chance to spend time with family and friends, to share gifts with them and to make memories to treasure. I love the mystery I find in the Christmas readings, and am struck again by the wonder filled question that I re-visit again and again ” how can this be?”. The manger calls me to wonder, and also to a place of humility where I have to allow the story to challenge the possibility of over-consumption and even greed on my part, and I find myself longing for a simpler way, and a more powerful way of being in this season that will inform the rest of my life.
Christmas is more than a celebration of the birth of a baby, it is the acknowledgement that Christ is with us even now, we look back to look forward, and to embrace the possibility that even now even today he is being born among us, offering us the possibility to become more, to overflow with the impossible made possible, God with us! Alleluia….
And it is there that I run out of words, for sometimes there is no other response but silent wonder….