Christmas is often a time for tradition, isn’t it? We usually like Christmas things to be familiar, and to stick to well-worn routines: ‘the way we’ve always done things.’ It gives us security and a sense of continuity with the past, to know that, in this changing world, at least some things stay the same.
Yet, deep down, we know that every Christmas is different. We grow and change, as life takes its course. People come into our lives, and leave them. We find the company we keep at Christmas is slightly, or profoundly different, each year when December 25 rolls round. Childhood excitement and wonder give way to adult tasks and responsibilities. The focus on getting the present we want changes (hopefully) into thinking about what we might give, to enrich someone else’s life. Christmas is always in a state of flux, no less for churches than for families and individuals. I took a quick glance at the ancient churchwardens’ accounts of St Michael’s to see what occupied the church over 500 years ago at this season. There’s no sign of expenditure on a Christmas tree. Instead money gets paid out for a fresh covering of straw on the church floor. The sixteenth century wardens don’t have any worries about the gas and electricity bills. However, they do spend large amounts on wax for candles to light the church, and charcoals too. But I’m not sure whether the charcoals are for heating the building or burning incense. They also employ a sexton to look after the lights, presumably to make sure the church doesn’t burn down with all those naked flames.
One year they raise some money by holding a ‘drinking’, an idea for the Organ Appeal, maybe? And on one occasion the Vicar’s robes must have been looking bit dirty, because they paid for his surplice to be washed. I usually do this myself on the Monday after Advent 4.
So Christmas here would have been rather different, 500 years ago, in all sorts of ways. Different smells and sights, different tasks and duties to make the celebration run smoothly. But the same reason for holding it — the coming of a Saviour. The same reason for praising God and joining in worship with the community — the birth of God in human form. The same message of hope and joy which accompanies us through all the changing scenes of life — that Christ is always ‘Emmanuel’, ‘God with us’, alongside us every step of our earthly journey. However you spend it, in ways familiar or new, may Christmas 2015 bring you great blessing and hope.