Christmas letter 2001
St Peter's Rectory, December 2001
It seems really odd to be sitting here a week before Advent has started, trying to think myself into a Christmas spirit in order to offer an appropriate thought for this letter in the Christmas edition of the Parish Magazine.
But actually, on second thoughts, the message is quite simple. Happy Christmas! I want to say that loudly, cheerfully and with no reservation at all. Because I am aware as a reluctantly avid reader of the Church Times, that the usual Christmas humbug has begun, with people from various parts of the church bemoaning the secular Christmas celebrations, and even suggesting that we set a new date for the Christian festival, leaving 25 December for a sort of pagan, commercialised party. Well, if we really do want to break any remaining links between the church and the rest of the community, letís do it. Letís go off into a holy huddle and do our thing. Perhaps we could even persuade our Government to ban Christmas again, as they did during the Puritan revolution.
Why is it that the church seems to find it so hard to have a party? Why is it frowned upon to relax in church and just enjoy our celebrations of Godís love? Do we really live with such a big chip on our shoulders about our unworthiness? Do we secretly believe that God is just waiting to drop a hundred ton weight on us if we so much as hint that actually we love our friends and families, and want to be joyful in their company once a year?
Please donít get me wrong. When we look back through the year at the awful things that have happened in the world, the suffering, the pain, the destruction, it certainly seems almost sacrilegious to be enjoying ourselves. Alan Simpson, whose voice these past months has been both courageous and prophetic, has written a deeply moving reflection on what Christmas will be like for thousands and thousands of Afghans elsewhere in the Magazine. If that truth does not reside in our hearts throughout our festivities, we will indeed be indulging in blasphemy. But our festival celebrates God With Us - the Incarnate, Crucified and Risen Christ. In the midst of the brokenness of the world, Godís love lights a way forward - not for any other reason than that he loves us.
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine (aged 9) wrote to me asking if I could explain for her why, if God is good, her auntie was suffering with cancer, her hair falling out, and so was George Harrison, one of her heroes. That was a challenge! I wonder how you would answer her? Because she, a child with an enquiring and agnostic mind, managed with one blow to cut through to the heart of our faith. If we cannot answer, then no matter how holy a huddle we may be tempted to creep into this Christmas, our carolling and our breaking bread will mean little to the world.
Have a very happy Christmas, celebrate unreservedly, but spend just a moment reflecting on why.