A few years ago a clergy friend told me about a session he was running on the Christmas story. Right in the middle of it, a vicar on the course admitted that he was bored to death with Christmas. This vicar had been ordained so long that he felt he’d run out of things to say about the stories of Jesus’ nativity.
I’m glad to say I’m not in that situation (yet!). Next year (Christmas 2015) my new book, ‘A Star-Filled Grace’ – filled with poems and stories about Christmas – is due to be published. Clearly I still think I have things to say about Christmas, even if some days I worry I won’t have enough stuff to fill a book!
For any of us, however, the seasons of Advent and Christmas can feel an exhausting and draining time. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the way many of us ‘do’ Christmas. For it has become the ‘season of excess’ in more ways than one. I think I need to preface this by saying I’m not a party pooper. One of the things I really look forward to at Christmas is (digestion permitting!) some rich food and a chance to indulge in a little liquid cheer. When my family are able to be in one place we very much try to enjoy a feast – of company, food and fun. But I’m alarmed by the way our society’s expectations of a ‘good Christmas’ have been continually inflated in recent years. It can feel like a competition to see who can spend the most, who can eat the most and who can get most drunk.
Curiously, I take this conspicuous consumption as a sign that we’re empty and hungry. This might seem an odd thing to say. When most of us have got an abundance of food and drink, how could we ever be hungry? But the fact that we seem to always want more and more is surely a sign of our emptiness. It’s like we’ve stretched our stomachs – metaphorically and literally – to the point where we can never quite be full. And Christmas seems to be the season that underlines that fact.
In the midst of all this, Jesus – the central character of Christmas – can get lost. Unlike the amazingly glitzy and slickly-made ads which appear at this time of year, he does not shout for our attention or try to trick us into parting with our cash for something we don’t need. Unlike most of the shiny images we have family Christmastimes, his family was poor, far from home and without all the comforts we take for granted. While great events were taking place in other parts of Jesus’ world – in Jerusalem, in Rome – God crept in beside us in a no-note village called Bethlehem. Not as a king in a shiny chariot. Not as a powerful prophet, but as a babe with little shelter and in great peril. And – somehow – it is this God who will save us.
So often we surround ourselves with ‘stuff’. WE try to fill ourselves up so that we feel complete. But it is not our possessions or even our family who will save us, but the love of God. And we are called to love and serve him. So I hope that you do have a lovely and pleasurable time this Christmas, but I also hope you know the love of God in your deepest being.
May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmastide.