For many people, Christmas and Church are inextricably linked. From candlelit carol services, to delightful nativity plays, to fun-filled Christingle services, this is often the one point in the year when people reconnect with the traditions of faith. So what does Christmas mean in a year when most of what we normally do has been suspended or scaled-back in the interests of public health and saving lives? Do we just give it a miss, declare Christmas 2020 ‘cancelled’, and make a new year’s resolution to be back in 2021? Well, it’s an option, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Christmas has been around, and deeply meaningfully so, for far longer than most of our beloved Christmas traditions.
Christmas has been around, and deeply meaningfully so, for far longer than most of our beloved Christmas traditions. Our favourite carols are mainly Victorian in origin. Pipe organs didn’t widely exist in churches outside Cathedrals until about three hundred years ago. Church Carol Services didn’t happen until the invention of the ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ service in the 1880s. So in a year when we can’t gather in large groups and sing, there is an invitation here to discover some of the other, older, traditions and stories of Christmas, and bring them to the digital age.
The stories of the birth of Jesus find their origins in the opening chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke in the Bible - and there we will find angels announcing the birth of Jesus, shepherds in their fields abiding, wise men from the East coming to adore (note: nowhere does it say they were kings, or that there were three of them!), a journey to Bethlehem for a census (sadly, no donkey mentioned), and an inn with no room but an empty stable available. However, if you want a different take on the birth of Jesus, why not read the opening chapter of John’s gospel, for a wonderfully evocative reflection on the wider significance of the Christmas story.
And of course, churches are far from closed this year, even if their buildings are. Many churches will have moved their Christmas services online, so why not take this year to explore some Christmas worship without having to trundle through the frost and rain to get there? For some Christmassy feelings and engagement, you could try www.christmas.org.uk (going live on Advent Sunday) as a good place to start.