Christ in Christmas

Assistant Rector's House, December 1996

The Revd Eileen McLean"The end is nigh" said Leslie in his Advent Letter, because "Christ has come into all things". "Even into Christmas?" we may be tempted to add, as we celebrate the feast of the Incarnation in the midst of eating and drinking, presents and visitors, shopping and television comedy spectaculars. But this juxtaposition is not something to be regarded with horror or to be ignored; it is quite proper that Christmas, which celebrates the humanity of the Son of God in the midst of his world, should be the most earthy of all Christian festivals. Christmas is about the integration of the earthly and the heavenly. As one seventeenth century poet puts it:

Welcome! All wonders in one sight
Eternity shut in a span
Summer in Winter, Day in Night
Heaven in earth and God in man
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to Heaven
Stoops Heaven to earth.
Richard Crashaw

From the many possibilities, can I suggest a two simple ideas which may be helpful in integrating the spiritual and material aspects of Christmas.

One is to do with cards – to think a bit more about the meaning of our Christmas cards, those we send and those we receive. They are so much part of our Christmas customs, but we all know that sending cards can feel pressurised and a burden - something that has to be fitted in with a thousand other things, to be rushed through as quickly as possible. Suppose we could make the act of writing and sending each card into a prayer? As we write, to think briefly but concentratedly about the person or family, and hold them in the presence of God. In this way the card would express not only our love, but the love of God working in and through us, towards our friends.

Receiving cards is immediately heart-warming, but then very quickly the cards are put on the mantelpiece or strung up on the wall - and on we go with our daily chores, and they remain as just decorations. Can I suggest that we try to value each card a little more, and use them as objects of meditation, let them speak to us of the love of God for his world. The robins, the holly, the Christmas roses, the beauty of frozen landscape, the jolly festivities – really look at them and give thanks that these with us are part of God’s world into which he came. Especially look and look and look at those cards which depict the wonder of Christ’s birth (fewer each year). Let them be icons which take hold, not just of our eyes, but of our heart - let them speak of the unutterable love of God in coming among us as a vulnerable child, and of the joy which lies behind all things. Let them embody not just the love of human friends, but the love of God and all our friends in the Communion of Saints.

The second idea is to do with silence. Christmas can feel enveloped in noise – in chattering, in muzak, in traffic sounds, in ever present television. But in among these there is always the possibility of entering into the very special quality of Christmas silence – the silence of the sky at night, of the streets when revellers and shoppers have stopped their activities, of the church when the worshippers have gone home. It is above all in listening in the Christmas silence that the presence of God and his eternal son can be most real. Whether we have too much to do or too little, are too much on our own or too much with others, let us try to consciously enter into the silence to find the peace which Christ brings, the precious peace of the heavens offered to the earth.

While all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of thy royal throne. Alleluia!
Christmas Vespers, Western Rite

Eileen McLean
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997