Clergy Letter for December 2016/January 2017, by Rev’d Derwyn Williams
I wasn’t brought up to be a frequent churchgoer. Until I joined the local church choir I was an occasional attender, along with my family. But there was one moment when attending worship was obligatory for us every year – Christmas morning. No presents, no games, no food or festivity were to be permitted until after morning service on December 25th. Because, we were told, here was the reason for the season: the celebration of Jesus coming among us. Christmas Day was a day to feast and frolic and have fun because of the precious birth of Christ. So – we should prioritise time celebrating that on Christmas Day before turning to the lunch and laughter. The party only found its real meaning from what we’d earlier done in church. I don’t remember any protests from myself or my siblings (though my mother may have different memories). It was just what we did that Day every year: it seemed obvious and natural, and it has ever since.
Of course, it was a different world then. The Crib service hadn’t been invented, or at least hadn’t yet reached my sleepy village. Our Christmas Carol Service was actually (and appropriately) held in Christmastide – the Sunday after Christmas rather than the one before. The church hadn’t yet gone along with the rest of the world in getting Christmas – parties and carols – pretty much over and done with ahead of the actual Day. So, if we wanted to hear the Christmas story, pray, sing our songs and offer our thanksgivings, Christmas Day was the day to do it.
As I say, that’s all changed. Whether it’s mission and outreach, or just an acceptance that the world wants Christmas early, most of our church Christmas happens in the first 3 weeks of December. Schools pour in, and Carol Services abound. And when we reach Christmas itself, most people who come to St Michael’s do so on the 24th. Perhaps there are journeys to far-flung families, or military-scale culinary tasks timetabled for the 25th, which preclude any coming to worship. Better to get the church-going done early, and clear time for other important things.
Of course, whenever folk come to praise and ponder God in our Church, it’s great. It’s brilliant that people want to come and hear the Bible on December 8th or 18th, or whenever. If you want to come, you’ll be welcome to any and all of our services. But I can’t help regretting the transformation of December. And not just, I think, out of nostalgia for embroidered memories of the gilded world of my youth. I wonder if we are missing out. Christmas Day is a moment of sheer grace. We can stop and rest from our strivings, turn to our loved ones in joy, and to the world’s needy ones in care and hope, because we know God is with us, always, through Jesus. We don’t feast and rejoice just to keep our spirits up as the nights draw in and the cold bites. We do so because a light has come into the world which will never die. The ‘festive season’ is more than just a marathon of confected bonhomie, simply and solely because Jesus came among us on that special Day. Christmas really is the moment when the world was changed for good. So can there ever be anything better to do – that very Day – than worship, wonder, praise and adore?