“…and God doesn’t like it!” Maayana and Aedan spent part of the October half term with us. We bought some ‘witch’s hat’ cakes for them, but they could only be eaten if we described them as black & green cakes as, we were told in unison, ‘We don’t do Halloween; Mummy and Daddy don’t like it.’ ‘We don’t do Halloween either’, we told them, ‘we just thought you’d like ‘scary cakes’.’ When Natalie came to collect them, we discovered Maayana (5) was completely on message: her teacher was encouraging the class to celebrate Halloween (in a church school). “We don’t celebrate it.” announced Maayana. “What a shame.” “It’s not a shame because it’s about celebrating all the bad things in the world and God doesn’t like it!” As the teacher recounted the incident to Natalie with a smile and Maayana’s most urgent task on holiday was to complete her homework, they obviously have a good relationship.
Aedan and Maayana may have been on message about Halloween, but talk of Christmas immediately triggered present wish lists. They are children! Aedan & Maayana rejoined us with all their family, overnighting Saturday. On Sunday, James was welcomed following his baptism, so Ben and his family joined us. The three of them were playing a game which involved a lot of laughing and shrieking, followed gamely by Callum, while James added his own contribution. It was what might be labelled a lively moment. Nathanael surveyed the children and turned to Diane. “I thought your plan was a bit odd, but now I can see the point; I like your plan; can I come?”
We had been discussing our plans for Christmas. Each year we have had the privilege of all our children returning for a Christmas Celebration. Seeing all the family and sharing in the Christmas ‘feast’ is one of the highlights of Christmas for me. We now have 8 grandchildren; James is moving towards needing a high chair – all the rest need a seat now, giving a basic 17 round the table. We have found ways to meet this growing target, but the sleeping arrangements have also become challenging.
Last year, we solved it by booking a family room at nearby Premier Inn and putting one family of 4 plus a baby there overnight for 2 nights. It worked in part but meant the parents had to go to the Hotel early for the children’s sake or keep the children up past their bedtime, so this year, we have booked a room for 3 nights over Christmas – and we’re the ones planning to stay there! Upstairs, every room will house families, including our bedroom, and the two oldest grandsons, Euan and Zach, are looking forward to camping in Granddad’s study, enjoying both the experience (they love camping) and the trust put in them. Meanwhile, Diane and I will be sleeping in a quiet room in a large bed, returning for breakfast. Nathanael surveyed the grandchildren and made his comments. Then we realised his was the one family, living locally, not staying at the Rectory. ‘Still’, he added, ‘I could enjoy the peace – though I would miss that Christmas morning moment when the children find their stockings.’
So what would ‘being on message’ about Christmas look like? It has been seconded to support variously the homeless, care for the family, a commercial bonanza, a gourmets’ extravaganza and an alcoholic indulgence. Meanwhile Vicars up and down the country address ‘the real meaning of Christmas’. Truth is, they’re all a bit right. Jesus’ birth is a matter of celebration – if the gift of the birth God’s Son isn’t sufficient for feasting and celebration, then what is? The gifting of Jesus – and the teaching he will bring – should inspire us to care for those in need and be willing to gift time and resources to those needs, including the homeless (although contrary to popular myth, the Holy Family were not homeless). The problem is not that we celebrate, but that we celebrate to excess and selfishly (Why does Father Christmas always give more to the rich ‘have-it-all’s than to the poor and needy?). The irony is that it is this selfishness that Jesus came to deal with decisively!
The real meaning of Christmas can only be found in the life and teaching and death of Jesus rather than sentimentalism about babies. In one of Jesus’ revolutionary declarations, he says “ For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (The Bible, Mark 10.45) The Babe of Bethlehem came to die, serving his people by freeing them from the grip of their selfish sins through his self-sacrificing death. It is from here that Christmas draws its heart and soul
Praying that you may find Christmas joy and peace in the one born to die as God’s gift to you.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
You can find the full text of the December Herald Magazine here