Do you share my rising tide of panic? It’s – oh, “not enough” shopping days to Christmas – and I haven’t even done my Christmas cards, let alone bought all my Christmas presents yet. The turkey’s ordered, though, the Christmas pudding’s in the larder, and I made our Christmas cake back in October. Must remember to finish the icing. So much to think about. Busy, busy.
It’s the same at my church. Advent – the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day – is a busy time. We’ve been rehearsing our Carols by Candlelight services, and there’s the Playgroup Nativity, and – oh, so many other special events. Even in the church, there’s a danger we get so caught up in activity that we forget Who Christmas is all about.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I toured some traditional Christmas markets in Bavaria. Some of these have been going for 800 years. There’s lots of stalls selling hand-made tree decorations, and ageless wooden toys. There are roasted chestnuts and the wonderful aroma of hot spiced wine that warms you up no end. One market even boasts the “One Metre Sausage”, served in a baguette, a hot dog enough to feed a family of four. The highlight of one evening at the Munich market was a brass band accompanying a boys’ choir singing Christmas Carols. And it was a thrill to join in with “Silent Night”.
In every one of the markets we visited, there was a crib, just like the ones we have in our churches, in Town Hall Square here in Leicester, and in many of our homes. In one village, the crib was lifesize, with a real ox and ass, a real Mary and Joseph, and a real baby playing the part of Jesus, sleeping in a hay-filled manger. This real-life tableau had been staged every year since 1200 and something, without a break, even during the war years. Through all the clutter and busy-ness of their Christmas preparations, the true nature of the Christmas celebrations had not been forgotten. Jesus was central to the event.
Church people use a special word at this time of year. It’s the word “incarnation”. It speaks of God’s Son becoming a human being, so that he could reconcile us with him. This was God’s great act of love, to give Jesus for us. That’s why we have such joy at Christmas. Christmas is our response to the greatest gift of all time.
Now, what can I get for Auntie Doris? (FADE) and socks for Uncle Cedric, I suppose. Oh and what about Norman and Rita?