The run-up to Christmas feels different this year.
I’m writing this on the last day of November. Tomorrow will be December 1st, the first Sunday in Advent, time to open the first shiny new door of the Advent calendar and enjoy the (appropriately Fairtrade) chocolate inside.
We briefly went to Cribbs Causeway today and it was heaving; crowds of shoppers loaded with bags and boxes, every outlet groaning under the weight of festive offers, tinsel and treats. There’s a castle and an ice skating rink outside as well. The castle changes colour – it could be straight out of Disneyworld.
So you probably think I’m going to launch into some grumpy tirade now about how shops do Christmas earlier every year and it’s an outrage and bah humbug – but I’m not. I have friends in retail – I know the Christmas “window” lasts for roughly three months before December 25th. Christmas cards in August make me want to complain, but in the main, any time after Remembrance Sunday is OK by me.
What makes me uncomfortable is the creeping influence of events like “Black Friday” – the American term for the first day that USA citizens start seriously concentrating on their Christmas shopping. I originally thought that Black Friday meant the day was bad for businesses because they put on so many special offers, but apparently it refers to the fact that the amount of cash spent means that many companies go into the black for the first time in months. I’m willing to be corrected if that isn’t the case…
Trouble is, stores like Wal-Mart and Amazon are bringing this tradition over here. Apparently someone got themselves arrested in Asda Walmart in Cribbs because everything got a bit heated over some cut-price tellys – blimey, it’s just STUFF, surely not worth getting nicked for, surely??? I meant every one of those question marks…
I wrote at the beginning of this post that the run-up to Christmas feels different this year. I guess it’s because I want to step away from the madness a bit. I enjoy shopping and celebrating and seeing friends and family as much as anyone but this year I don’t want to pretend that everything needs to be perfect. For most people it’s just not like that.
Earlier in the week we were driving up the Cheltenham Road in Bristol on the way to a hospital appointment. As we passed the Polish Church, I noticed that someone was curled up on the church porch, covered in a pink blanket. What will Christmas be like for him this year?
A friend of mine volunteers at the Julian Trust in Bristol and every year does shifts at Caring for Christmas, a shelter which runs from December 23rd to New Year’s Day offering warmth, food and friendship to anyone who visits. Caring at Christmas also helps people through the year by publishing and distributing The Survival Handbook – key info for homeless people about help and support available around the Bristol area.
I’m also aware of others for whom Christmas is difficult; those separated from family, those who are terminally ill and possibly facing their final Christmas; others who won’t see another soul on December 25th.
Sometimes us clergy want to fix those situations and make everything better but we can’t; and even though we can put on lunches and friendship groups and the like we’re only really scratching the surface. And at Christmas there is pressure even for us; pressure to see the family, pressure to write cards and send presents while also doing loads of prep; pressure to present the Christmas story in new and relevant ways; how many times do you WANT to sing Away in a Manger, actually?
And yet I wouldn’t change a minute of it, wouldn’t change all the services and carol singing and extra things – and even Away in a Manger can be quite special when sung by 100 children and parents clutching Christingle oranges with the lights turned low so that the flames of their candles burn bright and for a moment everything is transformed….
To be real this Christmas for me means trying to understand how Jesus, the Light of the World, can transform dark places and bring hope to the world, to our communities, to us. I’m not even close to understanding that yet but these words are helping:
From the Message Bible: (John 1:9-13)
“The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.”
Happy Real Christmas..