Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Sunday, 11 December 2011

What is Christmas about?

Here I am at that time of year again when I have to create services for Christmas, unsure of where I am coming from.

Already we have had the toy and gift service when my thoughts turned to the question of gifts and giving.


The book - ‘The Gift – How the creative spirit transforms the world’ by Lewis Hyde is primarily about gifts in relation to the arts and artists yet it tells a surprising amount about the nature of gifts in general.  Hyde tells us that:
‘There are several distinct senses of 'gift' . . . but common to each of them is the notion that a gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed upon us. . . .The concept of passing on gifts is most important to Lewis Hyde, who says:
“. . . a gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation. If this is the case, then the gifts of the inner world must be accepted as gifts in the outer world if they are to retain their vitality.” 

When it comes to giving gifts – I like to choose carefully and will spend a lot of time considering what I am going to give.  Often I like to make something – one year I knitted socks for all my family and some of my friends too.  This year I have made scarves, painted pictures and quilted bags.  It has meant that my preparation for these gifts began many months ago and I have had to spend time doing things, sometimes in secret.  But the effort is worth it when the gift is appreciated as much for the thought and effort as for its monetary value.

Today's service explored the Christmas story as we were in the third Sunday in Advent.
Christmas is a time for fun and games, parties, presents, cards, decorated trees, Santa Claus, mince pies, good food and company. It is a joyous, fun-time festival to celebrate a joyous occasion, the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, and the pronouncement of the angelic message of peace and goodwill. For me this day of Joy I am always called to the story of the shepherds that we find in the gospel of Luke and the angels appearing before them. 'The good news of great joy for all the people', the angels tell them, is that 'there is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord'. The shepherds consulted among themselves, decided to go into the city, found Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and 'made known what had been told them about this child' --- at which 'all were amazed', while Mary 'treasured it all and pondered it in her heart'.
During this week there will be countless re-enactments of that story as children all over the world perform their nativities.  In countless homes, churches, town centres and many other places there will be a crib scene just as we have here. 


Let’s just look at it for a moment, at the characters that we find there – they will be the same the world over – Mary and Joseph of course, the baby needs parents, some shepherds and three rather splendid figures who are sometimes referred to as kings or wise-men.  It’s strange though that nowhere in the bible do all these characters appear all together.   The Christmas story only appears in two of the gospels, Matthew and Luke.  In Matthew we find the wise-men – the magi from the east following a star (suggesting maybe that they were astrologers).  In Luke however we find a very different story – the story of the shepherds, common, ordinary, everyday folk who are told by angels of the new born baby.  Two different stories that over the years have been melded together to form one picture – the one we see before us today.

 Looking at this story once again, with fresh eyes to talk about it with the congregation my thoughts turned to poetry.  I needed a poem for the poetry evening tonight and I always like to try and write one of my own.  So here is my Christmas poem.  I am not sure that it answers any questions but it goes some way for me.

That old, old story

Each year it comes
That age old story
Believed for 2000 years
Of the mother and child
The stable, the angel,
The visitors and more. . .

But I tell you there is
No angel
No journey
No stable, no manger
Just a baby, born. . .

There is
No star
No shepherds
No magi or kings
No gifts to speak of
Just the gift of life, maybe. . .

We don’t know at all
It’s just a fable
A myth
A fantasy pretending to be history
Explaining – as if one can
The birth of a man
who came from
who knows where
and who knows when.

But this we know
That his coming
Changed the world for ever
And that is Christmas.

11.12.2011   by Gillian Peel


  1. Thanks Gillian, this is lovely. Christmas has sort of crept up on me this year - think it was all that mild weather. The people that I think are missing from the Christmas story are the women who would have been there helping with the labour and the birth. I can't believe that only men were there at some later point.

    Birth, the most creative of processes, and the Bible omits women. Not unsurprising but certainly disappointing that this is the story that has been handed down to us. xx

  2. I couldn't agree more Louise - we do so often forget the women - but then it is only a story!! I have a book of stories I will bring to our next writing retreat - they are biblical tales written in women's voices!!