I am very much looking forward to seeing lots of you in St Peter’s over the weekend of December 11th and 12th when we are hosting our very own Christmas Tree Festival. Our newly reordered church, with its lovely light and open space, will look stunning filled with trees decorated in all kinds of different ways. Do come along and enjoy the occasion and some seasonal refreshments. And bring family and friends along too – the more the merrier!
Most of us would find celebrating Christmas at home very strange without some kind of decorated tree. And yet it hasn’t always been that way. In this country the custom of Christmas trees spread widely under the influence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who brought it over from Germany. In 1841 they first set up an elaborate tree for their children at Windsor Castle; it would have been decorated with candles and hung with presents. These days we are both more conscious of fire risk, and more profligate with presents, and so we use electric lights on the tree and pile presents around the base.
There are all sorts of customs and traditions that have become part of Christmas for most of us, and also of course, traditions that every family develops for itself. I wonder what are the things that are important to you, or to your children or grand-children? Hanging the stockings up on Christmas Eve, leaving a mince-pie and a carrot for any hoped-for visitors bringing presents? Singing carols, visiting family, pulling crackers? The mammoth production of the Christmas feast (though does your family have brandy butter, or cream or custard? And is it eaten early or late?)
I think we all have a tendency to become sticklers for tradition at Christmas time. Often we don’t want anything to be changed; we want to do things exactly as we always do them.
The only trouble with that from a Christian perspective is that the event at the heart of Christmas, the point of the whole celebration, is something that shattered the very fabric of the universe. God, in the tiny baby of Bethlehem, became human.
We happily sing all the lovely carols that tell us the story – as well as those which add their own interesting variations. But do we allow ourselves the time and space, in amongst all our traditions, to let the enormity and audacity of that Christmas message take root within us?
A less traditional Christmas carol has this refrain:-
‘God surprises earth with heaven, coming here on Christmas Day.’
May we be open to God’s surprise and to both the encouragement and the challenge that it brings. In the manger of Bethlehem, in that little tiny child, the creator of the universe was born as one of us. He grew up to show us how to live and to call us to be part of the bringing in of God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace.
There is nothing wrong with traditions and many of us gain a great deal of comfort and security from the Christmas traditions we hold dear. But let’s not let them smother us so completely that we miss the impact of the event we celebrate.
May you know the peace and the love of the Christ Child in your heart and in your home this Christmas.
Read more clergy letters.