Thought for the Month (December 2009)
By the time you read this letter, Kate and I will be the other side of the world visiting our daughter Rachel and her family in the antipodes. We shall celebrate Christmas with them in New Zealand and I am looking forward to finding out what a traditional 'kiwi' Christmas will be like. There will be no Snow. The seasons are reversed, so snow usually falls in August. There will be Father Christmas, but probably on the beach and in a red pair of swimming trunks. There will be Christmas Dinner, but I gather that, despite the overwhelming number of sheep in New Zealand, the traditional 'kiwi' Christmas Lunch is Ham Salad. This will seem a little odd, particularly when followed-up by hot, traditional Christmas pudding.
So take away the snow and all the trappings of a winter festival and try to think what Christmas would be like in the middle of the summer. For us, there will be the shopping, then the school end-of term Nativity plays and Carol concerts for parents and grandparents to share in; then the start of the Christmas holidays. On Christmas Day there will be the giving and receiving Christmas presents, and, thankfully in our family's case, the Christmas service at their local Church. But will it still feel like Christmas with the temperatures in the seventies ( mid twenties centigrade) and under azure skies?
There is a lot of commercial pressure on Christmas. Since Victorian times there always has been. Lately, we have seen secularist pressure groups trying to remove Christ from Christmas and call the public holiday 'Winterval'. Now we have the 'all faiths-are-equal' lobby wanting to remove Jesus from his cradle so that Christian celebrations of his birth 'don't offend other religions'. Would it matter if all this pressure succeeded? Would our non-Christian neighbours even notice?
Well, it all depends on us, and in two distinct ways. Outwardly, the frenzied activity surrounding Christmas provides an opportunity for we Christians to mention a little of our faith to our friends and neighbours - that odd moment when a friend complains about the rush and bother of it all, or notices that our Christmas preparations are somehow 'different' from their own. And inwardly, at Advent, we each of us have an opportunity to cultivate the inner peace and joy which can spring from the true meaning of Christmas apart and away from all its commercial trimmings.
This is what this period of Advent is all about - to prepare the way for Christ at Christmas. Advent should be a time of prayer and contemplation for each of us as we try to accept the amazing fact that God comes to us in human form at Christmas; and a time when we can try again to understand the full consequences of His human birth among us. Then, made ready, we move on to celebrate the Nativity itself together with millions and millions of other Christians. All Christians celebrating Christmas together, whether in England, in New Zealand, or in almost every country all over the world.
May I wish you all a useful period of Advent, followed by a joyful Christmas.
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