I selected my Christmas cards carefully this year, from a children’s charity as usual.
Modern, no excessive gold gilding, muted colours, with the perfect blend of Christmas ‘country style’ and a very acceptable nod to Christianity.
They represent perfectly the dichotomy that is Christmas.
There is, of course, that very appealing idea of a ‘family celebration’ in midwinter.
And, I love the whole process of making, buying, wrapping and gift giving.
Many are the hours I could happily play with boughs, winter foliage and candles when decorating our home.
And whiling away time on a wet, dreary, winter Saturday in the kitchen with classic FM, orange peel, spice and the scent of brandied fruit is no punishment either.
I simply wouldn’t miss ‘nine lessons and carols’ at our local Anglican church the week before Christmas (though I’m not Anglican by tradition). Choral music speaks to my soul and those majestic readings of prophetic scripture amidst the scent of eucalyptus, pine and candlewax linger long after we’ve trudged home again in near-freezing temperatures.
It’s just that if I’m completely honest, the Jesus I know doesn’t easily fit into the box that is “Christmas’.
Many have tried.
Hisako Aoki’s Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas (with illustrations by Ivan Gantschev) attempts to do just this for children. Christie Purifoy reviews this title in her page “These Farmhouse Bookshelves”.
“This is a beautiful little book in its own right, but it is also a book that fills a very big need. Whether or not yours is a Santa-believing family, children can use our help integrating Santa (who is unavoidable this time of year) and the babe in the manger. Simply and sweetly (but not too sweetly) this book does exactly that.
Santa is still Santa (he works hard to share gifts with everyone, particularly, in this book, small forest animals), but he knows Christmas is not all about presents. In Santa’s words,“Love was the gift God gave to us on the first Christmas, and it still is, you know.”
I appreciate that this book does not give us another storyline about Santa. It simply uses Santa, a character every child knows, to speak the most important story – the life-changing true story – of the first Christmas.”
Admittedly, I was brought up with a somewhat religious fear of Santa Claus and the evils of consumerism as well as an equally paralysing mistrust of the ‘ritualistic’ ceremonies of Christmas presented by the wider Christian Church.
I want to tell you that I’ve moved on, found a unique and special way of truly celebrating Christmas and keeping Christ as the focus.
But alas, many Advent wreaths, daily Advent readings, Christmas puddings, goose dinners and some forty years on, the disjunction persists.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,And we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1, 14.
The story of the incarnation of the Son of God is written in flesh.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
John 1. 11-12
Last Saturday we joined crowds of early shoppers at a local Christmas Fair. Past the jolly ticket collectors in fur hats and thick woollen coats, my friend and I have our boots cleaned by a (now familiar) vendor whose polished ‘Cockney’ accent and stage-worthy performance always make us smile, and of course purchase our yearly supply of shoe cleaning materials. These are the craftspeople and small businesses for whom Christmas is ‘make or break’ time. The stress is beginning to show by mid-afternoon on Saturday for many. We look into tired faces but we also see joy. The appreciation of makers when we linger over a handmade piece, listen to a creative story or make a purchase.
Early in December, our neighbours will gather for drinks. It’ll be a full year since we last talked at length, beyond the weather, or the state of the local roads.
The incarnate Jesus would be just as ‘at home’ here as he was on the dusty streets of ancient Palestine, but I suspect He probably wouldn’t be selling wooden nativity ornaments or pretending to be ‘Father Christmas’.
Jesus would be alongside the poor and the hurting in our society. He told us so.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed”
Luke 4, 18.
I’m equally sure that Jesus would approve of family celebrations and gifts. Jesus himself celebrated with others while on earth. Indeed, a religious sect of His day accused Jesus of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 9,11).
Yet, Jesus also sits with the lonely and forsaken.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
Psalm 146, 7.
Jesus brings peace, but he also brings judgement.
He brings joy, but “All the tribes of the earth will mourn” (Psalm 146, 7) when He comes again to earth.
He offers forgiveness and love to all humankind, and an eternal hope, to all who receive Him.
But the extravagance of Immanuel does not easily confine itself to ‘Christmas’.
“How faint the whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26, 14.
Jesus often drew his disciples away from the crowds to rest and pray during His time on earth. One day he gathered His disciples around him in the synagogue and, opening the ancient scrolls of scripture began to read…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed”John 4, 18-19.
‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’, Jesus told them as he sat down quietly amongst his astonished listeners.
We don’t often stop to wonder at the significance of the ‘Godhead veiled in flesh‘.
Advent is simply a prop (communion being the only regular ordinance God specifically asks of His (universal) church), a reminder to adoration and worship, both of which open doors in human hearts to God’s blessing.
I do need all the reminders I can get to encourage me to worship Jesus. I value the inspiration of others who write beautifully and poignantly about this season and there are days when I have to borrow the prayers of others as my own seem so inadequate.
Rhythm and tradition often focus our minds.
But we don’t hold Immanuel in Advent.
Jesus explains: ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3, 8).
Immanuel cannot be tamed, and we must not try.
“I have come,” said a deep voice behind them. They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong that everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.”C.S. Lewis. The Silver Chair.