The festive period is now over, although residual parties continue to punctuate the diary through the first half of January. But this seems like a good time to jot down some impressionistic thoughts on Christmas and New Year while the events are still fresh in the mind.
First, I notice that I am increasingly less enamoured with, and more intolerant of, the prevailing Western culture’s big Christmas ‘Santa Claus’ story. The Big Man in the Red Jacket with the White Beard has totally displaced the Christ Child in the Swaddling Bands lying in The Manger. More and more Santa seems like a consumerist fraud to dupe people into spending more money on presents that are not needed and/or can’t be afforded. And each year it succeeds. Christians are little if anything better than others in this regard. We compound the felony by sending endless cards to one another, whose graphics have nothing to do with the Holy Family or the Nativity, but instead have the near ubiquitous robin pictured in a snowy scene of any generation from early Victorian to the present day.
It seems to me that our only hope of subverting (I was going to say ‘competing with’ but there is presently no competition) the big story of Santa is to keep telling the story of Christmas as the Story of Jesus through every medium we have available – cards, presents, services, movies, presentations, conversations and so on.
It is with this attempt at subversion that the second thing comes to mind: festive events that have spoken to me. For some reasons – they could be explored here but I won’t – it was later and shallower that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ touched me this year. God help me if the mystery of the Incarnation ever ceases to cause me wonder, but sometimes our human situations get in the way. However, in recent years a couple of annual events have come to mean a great day to me: the George Watson’s College ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ service in St Giles (at which I have presided for the last three years) and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union’s New Year performance of Handel’s Messiah, in which Jane sings. I think I’ve figure out why.
The ‘Santa’ story of Christmas is a story detached from moorings. There’s nothing that leads up to it and once he’s gone, he’s gone – until the captains of commerce need him again next year. But the Lessons and Carols sets the story of the Nativity, our Christmas Story, in the context of the Big Story of God’s involvement with the world. It runs from Creation to New Creation. It is a story that makes sense in its entirety and gives meaning and context to the story of the birth of Jesus. Similarly, the Messiah tells the Big Story but in a different way. It uses the lens of this one person to tell the story of sin and redemption. Some might quibble about passages from the Bible that are included in the story, but the point remains the same: the Big Story of God in the world is being told through the tale of the Messiah – Jesus.
Perhaps what we need to do as the Church, at Christmas and throughout the year, is simply to use the old ways and find more inventive ways of telling the story – the Big Story – of Christmas.