Last week was my turn to write a column for the Beverley Guardian again. Here is what I submitted.
Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? I confess that I tend to be rather last minute. But back in October I was listening to a radio phone-in where some claimed to have already bought everything.
The church has a time of preparation for Christmas, Advent, which begins 4 Sundays before Christmas Day, this year November 29th. But in our modern world this seems a little late to start preparing, as the Christmas goods appear in the shops straight after Halloween if not earlier.
I understand the desire to be prepared, to reduce the stress of the season, and the need for some to spread the cost. But I wonder if the early start to Christmas has a knock-on effect at the other end too.
Last year I felt like I didn’t have Christmas. Our baby arrived a few days before, and due to the uncertainty of arrival times for children I was not formally involved in any Christmas activities, and didn’t even get to a Carol service. On Christmas Eve it finally felt like I could focus on the festivities, and in the afternoon out I went to buy replacement bulbs for our failed Christmas lights. I could find none, they had all been cleared away, and Christmas displays were fast being replaced by posters advertising the Boxing Day sales. It felt like Christmas was over even before it begun, perhaps because it had already been going on so long there didn’t seem need to prolong it any further.
Traditionally Christmas was a twelve day festival (hence the song) leading up to the celebration on 6th January of Epiphany, and the visit of the Wise Men. Christmas Day was not the end of the season, but the beginning.
Because Christmas celebrates a birth, the beginning of a new life, the life of Jesus of Nazareth, born in a Bethlehem cave around 2000 years ago. A life that does not end on Christmas Day, or Epiphany, but 33 years later on a Roman cross. A life that Christians affirm was taken up again 3 days later, transformed and renewed, and which Jesus is still living today, though not on this earth.
Christmas is the beginning of a 2000 year old story, the story of the church, God’s people on earth. A story that is far from perfect, but which shows God’s loving faithfulness to people throughout the world and across the generations. A story in which he invites each of us to play our part.
So don’t let the early rush to buy presents mean you are burnt out long before December 25th rolls round. And don’t be in too much of a rush to tidy away those Christmas decorations and push life back to normal. Take time this Christmas to enjoy the celebrations, but most importantly to consider the greatest present of all, God’s gift of himself, and the opportunity that gives for this Christmas to be just the start of something special.