Friday, November 23, 2012

Maybe we can help our neighbours to see what Christmas is about

Well, if the shops and ad breaks are to be believed, it's almost Christmas. So here is my yuletide reflection that will be published in our church magazine (slightly edited) this weekend.

Maybe this Christmas will mean something more
Maybe this year love will appear
Deeper than ever before
And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call
Someone we love
Someone we’ve lost
For reasons we can’t quite recall
Mmm, maybe this Christmas
Maybe there’ll be an open door
Maybe the star that shone before
Will shine once more,

And maybe this Christmas will find us at last
In heavenly peace
Prayed for at least
For the love we’ve been shown in the past
Maybe this Christmas
Maybe this Christmas

Every year there seems to be good crop of Christmas albums. Some are little more than collections of saccharine versions of carols and Christmas classics produced to form the soundtrack to a thousand shopping trips as well as swell the coffers of the act involved. 

But over recent years a number of thoughtful artists have produced albums that capture something of the conflicted feelings associated with this time of year. In an increasingly secular society, Christmas is about parties and presents, families and memories of happy times and maybe celebrating the human capacity for being kind.
The Ron Sexsmith song Maybe this Christmas (above) appears on the album Tinsel and Lights by Tracey Thorn. It’s a beautiful, haunting track that expresses the longing for Christmas to mean something beyond a food-filled, present fest that gives us a week off a work and hangover that lasts through January.

What is striking about Thorn’s album is that it doesn't contain a single rendition of a Christmas carol. Perhaps we should applaud her honesty – after all, what is it with non-church-going artists feeling they need to produce indifferent versions of Christmas classics? But it is a reminder that for most of our neighbours Christmas has nothing to do with God. It is not about the birth of his Son or the angels singing the story of how Jesus has come to save the world.

Instead a theme of wistful longing pervades this record; perhaps the same mood that is the backdrop of so many people’s Christmas. It opens with a track that says ‘you loved it as a kid/now you need it more than you ever did/it’s because of the dark/we see the beauty in the spark/that’s why, that’s why/the carols make you cry…’ And the final line says ‘we must be alright if we could make up Christmas night’. Is this a hope of reconciliation? Or a hint that the original story might just be what our celebration of Christmas is lacking?

But it is the Sexsmith track that stands at the emotional heart of the album with its eye on what Christmas used to be about and what it might be about again, if only…

There is a sense that Christmas is a place to hide from the realities of life, a week of glitter and festivity that mask how we really feel, a moment that points to something that might actually make our lives better if only we could put our finger on precisely what it is.

We know that Christmas is a hard time for so many of our neighbours. It’s expensive at a time when money’s tight; it’s a time for family when we’re mourning the loss of a loved one; it’s a time of giving when we feel empty; it’s a time of joy when we feel gloomy. For a while we will be carried along by the tinsel and fairy lights, the soundtrack and re-runs of White Christmas. But as Tracey Thorn sings on Snowman we do all this ‘knowing how soon it'll fade away’.

At the heart of our celebration is the truth that Christmas changes everything. The message of the angels that a saviour is born in the midst of danger and poverty, in a time of war and high taxes is good news to all who struggle in the dark of winter, wondering whether there is any hope anywhere.

So, as we get ready for Christmas – no doubt caught up in some of the stress and angst of our neighbours – let us pause to remember what we are celebrating. And then let’s share our joy at the coming of the Christmas child with those around us – by inviting them to carol services (ours are on 23 December and feature Messy church, family carols and carols by candlelight; three opportunities to hear afresh the Christmas story) or inviting them into our homes for Christmas food and conversation (or both, of course).


maybe there’ll be an open door,
Maybe the star that shone before
Will shine once more,

and the light of God’s love will flood into all our lives, those who are near and those who seem to be so far away, lost in the dark. And then maybe ‘we’ll gather up our fears/and face down all the coming years/and all that they destroy/and in their face we’ll throw our joy.’ Maybe...

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