As a former retailer, I long grieved the loss of Christmas! I have always been a Christian, but retailing in England is not always a positive experience. Yes, we hear much about how retailers fail their customers, but I can also add much in the way of balance when I recall some of the abuses I suffered at the 'hands' of those who considered that spending sixty quid in my flooring emporium earned them the right to be abusive! Christmas was something of a bottle-neck in this trend, with those busy in their preparations lost in an internal mire of stress and pressure! We need only look at the faces of shoppers in the run up to the Big Day (from about August onwards), and you will not see much joy, I can tell you. In my former life, the big issue was 'I need to have that carpet in the spare room before Christmas, or life as we know it will surely end'. Why, because the third-cousin-twice-removed was going to stay over, unwillingly, for the night. Please believe me, lovely Christmas reader, that if that carpet did not (or could not) get stapled to the floor boards in time for grumpy-drawers, my life would be rendered invalid. Oh, the names I have been called, all in the name of pre-Christmas preparation ...
Is my point made: do you get the idea?
I have just spent (most of) my first Christmas Eve as a Priest, and have had the pleasure of a number of chance encounters, and also the annual Crib Service. Inclement weather prevented Dandy the Donkey making his now regular appearance, which was a worry to me, given my daughters would surely have sobbed their hearts out once they were told!
Not a bit of it. We had a whole cohort of kids, all tea-towelled up for the Nativity Scene (for those of you resident in England who are unfamiliar with a Nativity Scene, ask me afterwards, as there are sure to be many of you in enlightened 21st Century Buckinghamshire). We had Angels, we had animals (two of which were ably acted out by my own little cherubs). We had Dolly Jesus, a bale of hay and carols. Perfect.
This is where the meaning of Christmas truly lays. The faces on the kids, the eagerness and pure innocent joy in their hearts, the rabble born of such joyous energy - all these things are signs of what a Christmas is all about. Christmas is a celebration of childhood, and a celebration of family. It is a new begininnig, a fulfilling of a promise long made. It is about the purest emotions that humans can experience, and they remain unfettered and undiluted in children. I wish with utter passion that I could have just a little of that unbridled joy back in my heart, but I rejoice that I am blessed sufficiently that I can see Christmas through the eyes of my daughters. Jessica sang 'Twinkle Twinkle little Star' all by herself in front of 200 strangers in the vast county church, and did it like it was a routine matter. She could barely lay her head on her pillow earlier tonight, not because of Santa (though he is eagerly expected), but because she had been a donkey for baby Jesus.
My daughter, two years old, has worked out the importance of Incarnation - and that makes her among one of the keenest pure theologians ever - if only she knew it.
Happy Christmas, and God Bless