Being Chaplain of a school like Somerset brings many joys and Christmas is a time which highlights one of the best of them, blowing the Christian trumpet to produce tunes which are music to the ears and meat to the souls of believers and non-believers alike. Our College community represents all views of faith, non-faith, and uncertainty about faith; so while it is important to reference the Christian message, it is equally important that the truths are universally applicable regardless of people’s belief systems.
This is particularly easy at Christmas because so much of the wonder of the season remains true even if (and I hear the sharp gasps of the deeply committed) Jesus is removed from it.
There are two reasons for this, the first is that the heart of the Christian message is so dear to all of us, and the key tenets of this faith undergird the best of our society. As said by Paul in his letter to the Galatians: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. No wonder we want Christmas to be a celebration of this, and we experience an overflowing warmth when it is.
The second is that unlike the birth of Christ, Christmas in its origins is not a Christian event at all. In fact, in 17th century England and America church officials cancelled Christmas for being un-Christian. Christmas is an amalgam of great festivals around the world from before Jesus was born through to the 19th century.
The deep-winter festivals of northern Europe seem the earliest origins. With harvest stored, food plentiful, and work impossible or unproductive in the cold, it was time to rest, celebrate, and indulge, giving thanks to the “powers” and love to the community.
In later Roman times, and warmer Roman winters, there was still raucous celebration of the harvest but, as people were more able to mix outdoors, generosity arose where those with power shared their bounty with the poor and all took time off to celebrate.
The traditions grew and mixed, and as Christianity took hold across Europe they moved into Christian practice, embedding at their centre the celebration of the greatest gift of all, the Christ child from His Father, our Father.
In the early 1800s the power of Christmas as a family celebration, as against a community one, grew out of Washington Irving’s writings and especially Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol.
In modern times we have added the twinkle of millions of lights, the multiplication of Santas in shopping centres, a seemingly unending variety of Christmas trees, a celebration of food and drink that has us begin in awe and end in discomfort, and piles of gifts so high as to be embarrassing.
Distilling the essence, the season is:
a celebration of the results of a year’s work
a sharing of that bounty with those we love
a generosity to those in need
an indulgence full of laughter and merriment
and an opportunity to remind those we love of how much we do love and appreciate them.
And for Christians, it is a time also to remind everyone who will listen that this party celebrates the birth of a little boy who would grow to become a man who would sacrifice himself to save the world.
May every good wish be granted to you this Christmas and may you experience the miracle of the well of joy: no matter how generously you let joy flow from you, the well never dries.
Merry Christmas and God bless.
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