A very different Christmas!
This Christmas is going to be outside. So I have bought, sadly from Amazon, our first outdoor projector lights to dazzle the neighbourhood. We realise that there is no way this year we can meet together as a whole family, all three generations, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. No all-hands-on-deck Christmas dinner, no present-opening ripping-fest and no hastily-posed family photo to show how we have all grown one year older for our Facebook friends. It’s not just that Government rules won’t allow all our five families to meet together, not even in the local park. As a family we have come to the sad conclusion that it’s simply not worth the risk for most of us to come together, certainly when you factor in the other grandparents of our grandchildren. And certainly with the prospect of a vaccine so close. And neither for us will there be any Christmas church service, at least not one that we can attend en bloc. Jacqui and I will continue to do our best to avoid going indoors. Most of our shopping, you will be intrigued to hear, is being delivered not from Lapland but from Iceland. Sadly this season is going to be very difficult for many people. Many who live alone will be feeling even more isolated, literally untouched by any sign of affection. There is an epidemic of anxiety as our economy contracts. And many of our health-workers and carers have reached the limit of their emotional and physical endurance. All this means we need the message of Christmas that much more, the news that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). God does not leave us to it, to do our best in testing times. The very opposite. So we aim to celebrate Christmas this pandemic year but in a very different way, even one closer to the true meaning of the season – to be outward-looking rather than inward-focussed. Jesus is to be shared and not sheltered in our homes, to be heralded and not hoarded For our God is a God who invites . Shepherds in the fields rendered unclean by their work, Magi from a competing culture. These first invitations deliberately set the pattern for Jesus’ entire ministry, to unite all people in him, even both Jew and Gentile, through his cross. So the apostle Paul urges us: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Keep your doors wide open, good advice if you are worried by virus-carrying aerosols! This is revolutionary teaching and the entire story of the New Testament is how those first Christians struggled with its implications of everyone-welcome. Left to ourselves we turn inwards. Meanwhile the Holy Spirit is pushing us outwards. Luke tells us how the persecution of the Jerusalem church following the martyrdom of Stephen led to Christians being scattered “throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). Soon they are in Damascus and Antioch of all places. I’m sure most of these believers would have preferred to have stayed at home. So how does this change the way we are to celebrate Christmas this year? Something we need to think about now. At a very mundane level this means that Jacqui is focussing her festive flair less indoors and more outdoors. It’s unlikely that our grandchildren will ever see our wonderfully decorated home from the inside. So it’s all going outside, even to light up our house for the neighbourhood. So she has already decorated, including outside lights, a potted Christmas tree for our front garden, to go with the outdoor projector lights, which sadly – as far as I can see – do not feature a nativity scene. But there are 17 sets of slides and I’ve only given a cursory glance. But we do have our four advent candles delivered to us by our church, again to witness the coming of the Saviour. Not exactly Blackpool, I know – but it’s a start to celebrate the Light of the world coming into our darkness. Lighting up our house makes a point. Also, I have ordered from a Christian publisher twice the number of Christmas cards I bought last year, aiming to send, even deliver myself over the next four weeks, to those who may feel isolated or just low. Again, with the focus on our neighbourhood. I’m hoping that Jacqui will establish a mince-pie factory, again to bless others. Moreover, I continue as during the Lockdown to phone people, often those from my past who I have not seen for a while –three, in fact, from over 50 years ago! But now with a festive context. The Church of England has produced a range of digital resources, fittingly entitled Comfort and Joy. You can encourage those at the fringe of the church (or those who have wandered away) by signing up to the Advent and Christmas email reflections. I found those last Advent very helpful. Here is the link (share it on Facebook) https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/faith-action/living-out-our-faith/advent-and-christmas/comfort-and-joy I realise that Christmas is traditionally the season of good will but this year even more so – and it is for each of us, each in our own context, to take the all-inviting love of God, to quote Luke again, into “the highways and byways”. It may well mean changing the way we do Christmas but that is how the Holy Spirit works, not just challenging us to change but giving us the imagination and inspiration even to convey the wonder of the Incarnation.