Friday, December 24, 2004

More thoughts about Christmas

Christmas is a bit of a problem, really. Anybody who knows me will know that I am fairly close to being one of the "grumpy old men" that were on TV last night. Pet hates: the naffness of free church carol singing (none of the spine-tingling descants, fading use of harmony singing, grating modernisations of words, people squeezing "begotten" into two syllables); Christmas music in shops from late Autumn onwards - canned music in shops is bad enough, but when I am being expected to feel festive on a grey November day? - give me a break (the only two songs I like are "Fairytale of New York" [the original version] and Greg Lake's "I believe in Father Christmas"); trying to get "the right present" for everybody; the sadness of knowing that you have gone another year without actually speaking to a whole stack of people you (really!!) care about.

Also, I am very conscious of the fact that Christmas as celebrated basically has nothing to do with Christianity. We don't even know what time of year Jesus was born, so describing it as "Jesus' birthday" strikes me as stupid. The cosmic impact of God becoming human is so huge that there is no way we should be confining our celebrations of it to one day a year. The "one day"-ness of Christmas has a lot more to do with the retail sector than anything religious.

So what do I do as a Christian? Do I opt out and feel superior? Or do I just buy into the whole nine yards, and put all these feelings down to snobbishness or something?

Well, a lot of non-Christians only darken the doors of a church at Christmas. Let's make sure they hear the (proper) gospel then. Of course they won't listen to it - you could preach like Jonathan Edwards, and they would still go out saying "nice message, minister" - but sorting that out is the job of the Holy Spirit - I need to make sure that I am doing what I can to take the message to the world. If the reason people come is because they think it would be nice to go to a candle-lit service, or because their children are going to take part in a nativity presentation with the rest of the Sunday School - so be it. It's only deceptive if the church is implying that the message it proclaims is something other than the gospel.

In any case, do I go to church only because it suits me to do so? At any other time of the year, the (correct) answer to that question would be, "Of course not! I am here to serve other people; to encourage other believers; because this is the structure that God has ordained for the life of his children on earth, reflecting the perfected universal church as it will be in heaven." Does anything change over Christmas? No. So if as a Christian it is right for me to be a part of a church community all year, it is hardly right for me to opt out of it at Christmas.

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