It is December and we dare to say the word ‘Christmas’. The shops have been straining at the leash and now it is all they can think of. You can’t blame them, according to the Bank of England, a typical household in the UK spends over £500 extra in December. Spending on alcohol increases by 39%, and music and DVDs by 116% – hence all those Christmas films and Christmas compilation CDs, and full bottle banks come January. Churches too enjoy their busiest time at Christmas. All of a sudden pews that have been resting all year are needed to carry the weight of expectation of carols and readings well known and well loved. I have a mischievous thought that one day I will find someone who thinks that the Bible only contains stories of a baby’s birth and doesn’t know what happened after he grew up!
It was suggested to me recently that we should change one of our popular carol services for something more exciting. I am afraid I wasn’t convinced, not that excitement in church is wrong, or shouldn’t be encouraged, it’s just that to me the essence of Christmas is simplicity. The magic isn’t in the entertainment, the amusing sermon, or the ingenious craft activity. It is in the simple story simply told of a baby, born against the odds, surviving against the odds, who grew up to transform the world.
The story may be complete now, the baby born and his mission accomplished, but the transformation isn’t. While children go hungry and the sick go unhealed there is still work to be done; while people can’t forgive and violence plagues our cities, there is still work to be done; while people live on our streets and mental illness is left untreated, there is still work to be done. I could go on and on.
But the outrage we feel at these things, our desire for them not to be so, is a sign that the simple story of Jesus’ birth, his life and his teaching, still has power to inspire and transform. If some of that £500 spent at Christmas is directed to those who cannot return the gift, the homeless for example, then that would surely honour him most.