My Dear Friends,
Childhood Christmasses are now lost for me in a colourful, noisy and sometimes fractious whirl of memories. In order to focus our energies, if the weather was too poor to be outside, my mother would often suggest party games like Pass the Parcel. Sometimes even now the excitement and attractions and frustrations of that game return to me when I think about Christmas. Like the parcel that’s passed around the room, Christmas itself appears to have many layers.
The outer layer is the "consumer Christmas". The aggressive merchandising, which encourages acquisitiveness among children and overspending and fatigue among the rest of us. The next one is the Charles Dickens layer with cards depicting snowy scenes, roaring fires, and plum pudding. It is the Christmas of the family get-together and goodwill to all. It has a lot to be said for it but in the absence of faith what does it amount to? A little uplift and then everything goes on as before. The third layer is that of the crib, of the school nativity play which, for all its simplicity, can still be deeply moving.
The fourth and deepest layer is the story of how in Israel 2000 years ago a baby was born. In the person of this baby God’s son took our nature upon himself and entered our world in weakness and in love. He came to remind us that we are God’s children and that we have an eternal destiny.
Just as in Pass the Parcel there is a tendency to dismiss the first three layers and to see the spiritual layer, the prize at the centre, as being the only true layer. This is based on the idea that the spiritual and the material are opposed to one another. But this is not so. Christianity includes both spirit and flesh. Our task is to find the connections between the secular market place and the spiritual side of the feast. Some of the buying and selling at Christmass can foster gift-giving, good works, joy and the affirmation of personal relationships.
There are many who insist on a clear division between the divine and the human, the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body. But we won’t find that in Christmas, or in Christianity. Just as on that night long ago time and eternity were interwoven in the single gift of the child, so in all the layers of Christmas we may find what speaks to us of God’s love.
My prayer this Christmas (in the midst of so much that may be wonderful and so much that may, frankly, be difficult) is that you and I may recognise the truth that “When peaceful silence lay over all and night was in the midst of her swift course, from your royal throne, O God, down from the heavens leapt your almighty word.”
Whether there’s silence, noise, tears or laughter, I wish for you that God’s love will leap in your heart.
Your Friend and Vicar,