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Christmas Memories

Christmas memories.

We each have Christmas memories that are special to us but the way we celebrate Christmas seems to be changing.  The so called traditional Christmas is a Victorian invention apparently invented by Charles Dickens according to a new film called The Man who Invented Christmas (Cert PG).  To stick rigidly to the Victorian pattern of celebrating Christmas and the Victorian ways of doing things seems like putting on blinkers and narrowing our view.  Sadly, instead of enabling our sight to focus on the reason for our celebrations, we can fall to the temptation of focusing on the trimmings.  For example, do we have a real tree or an artificial one?  Do we put a star or an angel on top of the tree? Or do we have brandy butter on our Christmas pudding or something else?

Traditions and trends do arise from time to time.  Growing up in the 1970's there was a popular tradition that claimed that it wasn't really Christmas without the seasonal Morecombe and Wise special.  Then there was the race to see which single would be the Christmas number one.  Long before the X-factor winner grabbing the number one spot there was Band Aid's Do they Know it's Christmas battling it out with Wham's Last Christmas.  Of course Band Aid won but that didn't matter as George Michael sang on both and donated the proceeds of Last Christmas to the famine appeal.  But in my view the best battle for the Christmas number one happened in 1973 when Slade, with Merry Xmas Everyone battled it out with Wizards I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day.  Slade being the  winners.   

Wizard's desire seemed to express every one's hopes for peace and summed up what the angels said to the shepherds.  Peace on earth to all men as people were wanting absence of conflict.  Thoughts of soldiers in the trenches of World War 1 having an unofficial cease fire and playing football against each other in 1914 come to mind. 

However, not everyone looks forward to Christmas.  For some, Christmas can be a stressful time of year and does not mean that a good time will be had by all and problems disappear.  The season for some simply amplifies their problems as people enter into debt simply to give their children a good Christmas.   

Just walking around the Frenchgate Centre these last few weeks we can see the traditions of Christmas being used to create a feel good factor.  The Christmas decorations and choirs singing Christmas carols.  On one occasion I saw a choir singing not carols but seasonal songs.  At first I felt a little uneasy about this development.  Was it a sign of the sacred and secular divide?  A sign that people were moving away from a Christian perspective?  Or perhaps as I suspect a sign that we are losing contact with the culture around us?  The song that this choir was singing when I first heard them was not even a Christmas song.  It was Journey's Don't Stop Believing.  A rock song whose singer and writer of the song, Steve Perry is a Christian.  The song itself is about the search for love by people who are hiding in darkness and have all but given up on finding it.  The chorus and catch line Don't stop believing is an ear worm that sticks and is all that most people can remember of the lyrics.  Yet isn't this what Christmas is ultimately about?  People in darkness being searched out by love.  The prophet Isaiah puts it like this.  "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  They lived in a land of shadows, but light is shining on them.  You have given them great joy, LORD; you have made them happy..." (Isaiah 9:2-3)      

Could the Spirit be speaking to them when they hear the words, Don't stop believing?  Christmas is about God becoming incarnate, being one of us.  As a result God knows what it is like to be human and the joy comes because of what God does for us in Jesus by being the means by which our sins are forgiven.

Yet there is also a challenge for us who are convinced Christians.  Are we prepared to change how we do things in order to engage with the culture around us?  The world may sing Christmas songs and not as many carols as before but someone is still needed to say to the culture around us, that the love and hope they may be looking for is in the figure of Jesus.    

May you have a happy Christmas whatever song you sing.

Rev Mike Parnell. 21 December 2017