Once more the wheel of the year has turned, and Advent heralds the imminent arrival of Christmas. Tinsel and twinkly lights adorn the shops, and we are encouraged into another orgy of spending and consumerism. It’s the season of cheer and goodwill, mulled wine, mince pies, parties and gatherings. Pictures of Father Christmas, snow, robins, reindeer, and all kinds of cute vintage wintry scenes abound, regardless of whether snow is even remotely likely. And of course the bookies have their usual offers on whether it will be a white Christmas, or just cold and wet.
It’s easy to become jaded by it all, secretly rather enjoying some parts, whilst cultivating a world-weary Scrooge persona. I know – I did exactly that. Until recently, Christmas was not my favourite time. For a start, Christmas has overrun Advent, and doesn’t actually start until 24th December at midnight…. Grumbling is easy. But how utterly ungracious! We vicars have a whole month when we can talk about Jesus, and people are acutally willing (more or less!) to listen! How wonderful! I have packed my Scrooge and Herod outfits away forever, and we shall be putting up our Christmas tree with joy tomorrow afternoon when my daughter gets home from school – it’s the 1st December, the new year has started for the Church with the imminent coming of the Christ Child, and Christmas celebrations have begun!
Sadly for many it’s not like that. The peace and reconciliation that Jesus came to bring is a distant dream. I remember one year hearing on the radio that it is absolutely awful – we take all the members of our family who we spend the rest of the year avoiding, stuff them all into one room, and then wonder why war breaks out.
And how sad! Sad that a time of traditional celebration causes such pain and loneliness for so many. Sad also that the tail definitely wags the dog, so to speak – the presents no longer symbolise God’s gift to us of Himself in Jesus, to bring us his love and forgiveness and healing. Instead the presents are so numerous and have taken on such importance, there’s barely room for Jesus under the tree, just as there was no room for him at the inn that night in Bethlehem.
But Jesus is awfully good at squeezing into even the tiniest of spaces, and making a world of difference. Just a whisper of invitation, a little chink, and in he comes. So amidst all the carols and presents and twinkly lights, the tinsel and mulled wine and general revelry and excess, instead of bemoaning the state of the world I shall be celebrating that Jesus is in the midst of it all. And even more importantly, that he is outside in the cold, with the hungry and the homeless and the forgotten, with those squeezed out and excluded by all the joy and noise. As he promised, he is with us always, to the end of the age.