FINDING EMMANUEL IN THE STUFF OF CHRISTMAS
Christmas is just around the corner: festive sweaters are in the shop windows, turkey orders are being solicited, carols are seeping into the background, and the tree will soon be up awaiting its splendour.
The question is, ‘What is it all for?’
The trappings of Christmas, for many of us, have become a habit, at best providing an imaginative context for relationships, at worst diseased by crass commercialism and over-indulgence. And all too often, Emmanuel, whom we say is the reason for it all, has been reduced to a slot between presents and the Christmas dinner.
Is the answer to the Christmas conundrum to honour the Lord by withdrawing from the festivities, or to carve out more time for 'church' in the press of preparations?
Or perhaps there is a third way? Perhaps we can learn to see the ‘stuff’ of Christmas as opportunities for grace-filled breathing-spaces, gateways to an encounter with Jesus.
Our lives are supposed to be faith-filled—all the time—with no exceptions. Paul, writing to the Romans, makes the very strong statements that, ‘the righteous will live by faith’, and ‘everything that does not come from faith is sin’ [Romans 1:17, 14:23]! In his day, one pressing concern was whether Christians should obey Hebrew dietary laws, and whether meat bought in the marketplace had been used in pagan practices. Paul’s response was that the choice was down to personal conviction; but whatever they did, the real issue was the faith they invested in their meals, rather than the question of sources and requirements [Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8].
We can apply this principle to the issue of Christmas. Although the origins of many of our festive customs have been lost in the mists of time, for some Christians they have become a real stumbling block. The right and honest response in such a case is to withdraw from the activities which cause unrest. However, for those of us who feel quite at peace in keeping these traditions, their true value in the present is determined by the faith we invest in them.
The weeks leading up to Christmas creak with the stress of our ‘to do’ lists, while our hearts cry out for breathing space, for rest. What if we took out regular time to do just that? The Hebrew word for rest is sabat which means ‘to cease, desist or rest’, and from which we get our word ‘Sabbath’. The primary idea seems to be that of ‘sitting down or sitting still’. What if these weeks leading up to Christmas were sprinkled with ‘Sabbath Moments’, short periods of time when we can recalibrate, when we stop, turn our gaze on the Lord and worship?
Our Christmas traditions can be the gateway into such Sabbath Interludes. Taking some of our favourite festive customs, this new blog series will explore how each can provide a breathing-space, and give opportunity for an encounter with Emmanuel. In addition, our faith can be ignited for some of our Christmas practices to become in turn, a means of grace, a resting place, and a gateway for others.
Find out more about Spirit-led Refreshment: The Rhythm of Sabbath
NEXT WEEK: FESTIVE FOODS AND FEASTING
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[Photo credits: Jess Bailey (Christmas list); Aaron Burden (bench); Adam Solomon (hello) @ Unsplash, with thanks]
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