I often find it difficult at this time of year to find a subject for the Sunday service that falls in the in-between times – in between the first Sunday in Advent, the Toy and Gift service and the Carol service. I sometimes think I should avoid the subject of Christmas altogether and yet somehow that feels wrong too. So this is a slightly different look at Christmas, maybe not full of joy and celebration as the other services are but rather a time when we recognise that not everyone is comfortable with the celebrating at Christmas time.
There are, it is said, far more cases of suicide during this festive season than at any other time of the year. The telephone calls to the Samaritans increases and the queues at the food banks grow. It is a time when if you are prone to depression that life can become filled with despair as we watch other people seemingly enjoying themselves, or if one’s financial situation is not good then watching the massive rush to spend that goes on all around us can be the tipping point for many people. Maybe we should then in this in-between Sunday take a moment to think about those less fortunate than ourselves and how this fits in with the Christmas story.
Fiona MacMath in the introduction of The Secret Christmas – a book sold on behalf of the charity Crisis which initially responded to homelessness at Christmas but now functions all the year round says:
Most people keep two Christmases - one blazing with greens, reds and gold, a public-spirited, family affair, for which whole factories labour all year round to provide the paper Santa Clauses, crackers, displays and designs for every conceivable domestic item at Christmas time. It is the Christmas the new employers, the Puritans, banned as an uncommercial proposition - their gifts of prophecy failed them here - and an undignified, unholy row. It is the Christmas we love to hate, complete with a hundred horrid chores, unwanted relations and Bing Crosby crooning in every department store.
The other Christmas is secret - blue and silvery white for those who have the eyes for that kind of thing, but for most, a fleeting sense of joy and wonder which touches them when the horror of the office party is safely over, and when there is an oasis of quiet in the family celebrations: midnight mass; the King's College service of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio; the first glimpse of the Christmas tree in all its glory. It provides the impulse for crusty business men to find small change for the caterwauling urchins carolling at their front doors, and keeps the weary housewives trudging through their preparations.
. . . the Christmas message brings joy to the world, but Christmas itself can heighten the wretchedness of some human circumstances. It promises goodwill from God to all people and between all men and women on earth; that promise is still to be brought to perfect fruition.
In this in between Christmas I always look around for readings which might give us a different slant on Christmas.
This piece I found tucked inside my second-hand copy of Songs for Living. It is typewritten and by that I mean using a typewriter and there is no name on it. Probably it was written by a Unitarian Minister for use at Christmas time, it makes us consider our relationship to Christmas.
What makes Christmas is that something other which is within ourselves . . . . The Angels message, Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all men" might be greeted with ‘excellent . . fine’ ‘ we can do with it’. . . but better still to recognise the responsibility we have to share in the activity involved in making it so.
"You in your small corner and I in mine". . Better still to have the quality of mind which warms to the glow which the real Father Christmas brings to us: which colours our minds and our lives with the generosity of spirit: Christmas never comes to those who cannot hear the songs of the angels. . and if those songs are within us, then the Christmas story about the birth of a very special baby will be kept alive . . and if we believe that in some very special way, every child in every cradle is potentially the hope of the world, and capable of adding to the world his own light, then we shall experience for ourselves the truth of HOPE. . . . : He comes to us as one unknown, as of old by the lakeside he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: Follow thou me. And sets us to the tasks he has to fulfil for our time." A birth can never be what others say it is. . . and Christmas can never simply be brought to us, and peace and joy magically dropped from heaven . . . We must find the true meaning of Christmas as we allow those qualities we associate with the Christmas season to mature and develop within each of us . .
However you feel about Christmas, whether it is for you a time of wonder and joy or rather a time of sadness and unease, I would say to you not to feel guilty about how you feel about it. If you enjoy the frenzy of shopping, putting up decorations, cooking sumptuous meals and entertaining friends and family then that is fine. But also if this sort of Christmas is not for you, and you would rather spend your time quietly and simply then that is fine too. Let Christmas be the season that is right for each one of you but in this time of festivity try and find a moment to spare a thought for those who do not get to choose how they celebrate Christmas, because for them celebrating is not an option.
So may it be. Amen