How do YOU count down to Christmas? By opening doors on an Advent Calendar? By lighting a candle each evening and letting it burn its allotted span? Or perhaps you mark the date by how many jobs have been checked off your to-do list? Did you know there is an app which counts down the actual seconds to Christmas? As I type, there are 40 days, 20 hours, 7 minutes and 26 seconds left. How scary watching time vanish before my eyes! Something better suited for the children maybe who, once we get to December, can hardly wait.
Yet isn’t there a little child in each of us who feels stirred at memories of Christmases past? Who listens to the carols and finds themselves humming the familiar strains? Who hears the timeless Advent readings and is inexpressibly moved? The unfathomable mystery of the Word-made-flesh somehow walks hand in hand with a Nativity cast adorned with tinsel tiaras, tea-towels and tatty curtains to the tune of ‘Little Donkey.’
Such a far cry from the story of a scandalous pregnancy and the birth of a baby on a dirty floor to refugee parents. In truth, if Jesus were born today, he might feel more at home at the All-Night Café or Whitechapel Mission than in our cosy, twinkling houses.
It is good to remember the poverty and simplicity of that first Christmas and resist some of the extravagance, expense and waste that is pushed upon us by clever marketing and targeted advertising. But – lest I should sound like ‘Bah, Humbug!’ Scrooge – let me assure you that I LOVE Christmas and everything to do with it: all its trappings and wrappings. Yet you and I know – indeed, we of all people should know – that without Christ at its centre, the festive season is just so much flim-flam. The 25th of December will come and go and if we haven’t met with Jesus during it then we will enter 2020 poorer in pocket and in spirit.
So, early though it may be for Christmas greetings, let me leave you with this timeless message from George Stringer Rowe’s ‘Cradled in a Manger Meanly’:
Evil things are there before thee; in the heart where they have fed,
wilt thou pitifully enter, Son of Man, and lay thy head?
Enter then, O Christ most holy; make a Christmas in my heart;
Make a heaven of my manger; it is heaven where thou art.
And to those who never listened to the message of thy birth,
who have winter, but no Christmas bringing them thy peace on earth,
send to these the joyful tidings; by all people, in each home,
be there heard the Christmas anthem: praise to God, the Christ has come!
May the Christ of Christmas journey beside you this Advent and as you step into a new and uncertain 2020, may you find your hand securely held in his.
With love and every blessing,