I have a neighbor who I bump into from time to time, and we invariably exchange pleasantries. In our encounters these past few weeks she enquired by way of a good natured wind up whether I was ready for Christmas (unlike my neighbor, who is very much into Christmas festivities, my preparation is minimal). Rather than succumb to the temptation of giving a Scrooge like “baa and humbug” response, I gave a non-churlish, non-committal answer, and after a further brief pleasant exchange, culminating in wishing each other “Merry Christmas”, we went on our separate ways.
My antipathy toward Christmas was brought home earlier after having visited my local shopping mall and listened to some of those annoying, sentimental Christmas songs, and noting the various trimmings promoting festivities, for the purpose of commercial gain. I suppose, in reflecting on past Christmases, it is a mixed bag. I do recall some happy times as a child and when my own children were growing up, but often it was a time when I felt more depressed than normal. Even on the religious front, I have not been overly keen on Christmas, given most of my religious associations have been with very Low Church types that treated every day much the same and put a lot more emphasis on the death of Jesus than His birth.
Yet there is also another side. While you won’t see much evidence of Christmas celebration if you visit our house, we are perfectly ofay with people’s sensibilities concerning the matter of Christmas, whether the “Happy Holiday” or “Merry Christmas” or “don’t talk to me about Christmas” brigade, and we will do what we can to be in tune whatever the festive mood happens to be. It is nice that in the middle of winter and in a troubled world that for a short time at least people can just enjoy the occasion. It is a time for family and friends to get together and for people generally to show human kindness and one hopes this will extend to the rest of the year.
I have already watched my favourite Christmas film: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and been heartened as a result. I daresay, on Christmas Eve I will again deliver Christmas cards to my neighbours and go along to Midnight Mass at my local High Anglican church. As for Christmas day, while I doubt I will ever regain that feeling of excitement I had waking up as a child, I will look forward to joining the folk at my local Low Baptist Church and later to spend time with my family, play games, eat yummy food and watch the tele. I will also give some thought to the many people and situations I have been involved with during the past year and commit these to God, praying for peace and reconciliation. As I reflect on these matters, I can count my blessings at Christmas time and think about the greatest gift of all, to all human kind – God’s only begotten Son.
One activity I will no doubt continue with over the Christmas period is doing my bit supporting the homeless. It strikes me how people often do want to help those less fortunate to themselves (a good thing), although I sometimes have to gently point out that dealing with homelessness is a year round activity and help is more needed at times other than Christmas. Also, it should be noted that it is often the case among the homeless that Christmas can be a difficult time of the year, reminding them of what they are missing.
But returning to religion, it is good to be reminded of the “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” message, which is so much needed. Every Christmas, I am struck anew of some or other aspect. This year, I have listened on several occasions to my favourite carol: “O come, o come Emmanuel”. What is striking is the words were penned by our so called unenlightened Medieval forefathers, and showing great insight. They were looking forward as much to Jesus’ Second Coming as to His first (which is what the season of Advent, which proceeds Christmas, is about). When Jesus returns, it will be a time of judgment before He reigns as King on the Earth, putting to right that which is wrong.
The onus, therefore, is for Christians to spend the four weeks preceding Christmas in sober reflection and being prepared to greet the King, when we wake up on Christmas morning. The other thought that struck me, from one of the Bible passages invariably read at Carol services, is that the first Christmas story took place when “Quirinius was governor of Syria”. This is significant for at least two reasons. Firstly, the Christmas story is a historical event that was not divorced from what was going on in the world at the time. Secondly, of all the trouble spots in the world right now (and there are many) what is happening in Aleppo, where “Assad is governor of Syria”, is particularly poignant in the light of the setting of the story. The message of peace and goodwill is needed now as ever it was, and we need to work and pray to that end.
This was only meant as a short mediation, which is as much to draw attention to the reason for the season, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and so I end here, we the only thing that remains to to wish all who read this: “A Merry Christmas”!