I have a confession to make! Last year as a family we all got together to discuss Christmas presents (a scene I am sure you are all very familiar with) and decided we would not buy each other anything.
This is really unusual for us as a family, in fact some years we would go completely over the top. Instead of presents, we would give Christmas a different emphasis. We decided to focus on faith, family, friends and food. As we approached Christmas it did seem a bit strange (I weakened and bought table presents: small gifts to bring a bit of laughter and fun to the meal) but overall the ‘exercise’ was really good. The action did bring a different emphasis and our bank accounts were much healthier in the New Year.
We know that we face many familiar distractions in the run up to Christmas. Shops will bombard us with gifts and items that we cannot live without. Family gatherings can provoke stress and strain. We are warned about physical, emotional, and financial overload. All of which can rob us of an authentic Christmas experience.
This being said: what exactly would we say is an ‘authentic’ Christmas experience? Well, I guess the stupendous Christmas claim itself, that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19) is a good place to start.
Do we have any idea about this potential of transformation? I loved a quote in Annie Dillard book ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’, she writes, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets! Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews! For the sleeping God may awake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us to where we can never return.”
The church does many things, sometimes poorly and sometimes well — academic discussion, an intention towards moral transformation and development, a bias for peace, community building, peace-making, provision of hospitals and schools in areas of the world in need, art, music, and care for the poor. But none of these are unique to the church; you can find them all in many other places and faiths. What separates the church from all these foci is the confession that Jesus, the Christ Child, is Lord. Lord of the World, Lord of our Churches and Communities and, most importantly this Christmastide, Lord of you and Lord of me. A blessed Christmas to you all and with love in the Christ who is reconciling the Cosmos to himself.