Mary Penwarden (an Authorised Lay Minister) writes about why, despite “the gross commercialisation of Christmas”, Christmas still matters to a lot of people because it acknowledges some human needs, and much more.
This is a difficult time of year. The way we celebrate Christmas involves a huge amount of planning and expense and magazines and television programmes are full of advice – for gifts, recipes, new ways to decorate the home and lists of times and dates stretching back into November to enable us to ‘manage’ Christmas as though it were a military operation. Added to this are worries about who we will [or won’t] be spending Christmas with and the pain of those who feel that in some way they are failures because their family doesn’t measure up to the Christmas card ideal. We are gloomily informed that it is at Christmas that we are at greater risk of suicide, marital or mental breakdown than at other times of the year.
But I suspect that we don’t know anyone who actually likes the gross commercialisation of Christmas and that Christmas matters a lot even to people who are not Christians because it acknowledges some basic human needs. It encourages us to make the effort to keep in touch with friends, to let them know that relationships matter and they are not forgotten. The longing for a better world is within us all and it is in part this yearning that makes people who otherwise have no connection with religion fill our churches for Christmas services, listen to carols and hear the message of goodwill to all: “Behold! I tell you a mystery” (1 Corinthians 15:51 ESV) remains a powerful message.
If we are to be able to sing with the angels, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace’ we have to know that it is good news we hear, the great glad tidings that have the power to transform our lives and enable us to live free, not from fear because we shall always have fearful times, but free from being controlled by our fear and able to hold on to hope throughout our suffering. At Christmas God, made flesh in Jesus, comes with the good news that says to us first of all that we are loved, without condition, without limit and beyond measure.
We know that we fail but by God’s grace we are not defined by our failures; we still can be forgiven and grow in love, and as we are forgiven, we can forgive. Trusting in God’s love for us we can acknowledge our fears but know that God is always with us. This good news that we are loved and that we can love needs to be shared and not kept to ourselves. It needs to be told not just in words but in action. The word became flesh and lived amongst us. We give glory to God by living this good news, in our restoring of right relationships.
John Bell, of the Iona Community, wrote these words about Christmas:
“Pull back the curtain on Bethlehem’s stable
Strip off the tinsel and peer through the dark,
Look at the child who’s a threat, yet in danger,
Homeless and helpless, he first makes his mark.
Love’s the secret, Love’s the secret
Love is the cradle, God’s table, God’s cup and God’s ark.”
May we all celebrate Christmas with joy, reconciliation and hope as we enter a new year.
Authorised Lay Minister