It is almost the winter solstice as I write this last letter of 2019 and the first of 2020. The sun is beginning to set having carved a pale arc through the sky. Of course we know that the Earth is almost at its full tilt with the northern hemisphere away from the sun and that by the time we enter the new year, the Earth’s axis will be on course to rotating round to give us the long summer days and evenings that we love so much.
A new beginning is just around the corner and the Earth’s tilt and wobble is part of a cycle that has existed for millennia. Like our liturgical cycle of celebrating Christmas. Marketing would have us believe that the hype surrounding and leading to Christmas began before the end of October. Yet, the act of celebrating Christmas amongst the annual cycle of hype creates a point of poignancy that nothing else can proffer.
The combination of the shortening of days together with the increased frenzy of sales of materialistic culture around that of Christmas tend to send some of us into hibernation. There is a strong desire to curl up by a log fire and wait for the snow and ice and blizzards to pass through. To wait for the High Street to return a state of ‘normality.’ Of course, there are those amongst us who love this time of year so much that the winter wonderland becomes their playground, offering ice climbing and cross country skiing.
I asked many of the young students at the school, where I have begun chaplaincy, what Christmas was about. The question as to why we open presents on Christmas Day stumped most of them, though the best answer I received was that it was a joy to receive and open presents. That led nicely to an explanation as to why we, as Christians, celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.
The need to turn away from the frenzy of the High Street and shopping signifies a much greater desire to turn towards a place of stillness, that is sometimes silent and often peaceful. Something in fact that can be found in our churches. There is something that cannot be identified, touched or seen and yet touches us and helps us find our identity in what happens at Christmas time. I taught almost fifty students that what happens at Christmas time is so important that it takes four weeks to get ready. The four weeks of Advent.
What we’re doing is part of a cycle. A process. In order that our hearts might receive the birth of Jesus, we need the four weeks of Advent to prepare our hearts so that we might receive him with great joy. The greatest present any of us might ever receive. A poignant moment of birthing something new in our hearts. Because the Jesus we knew yesterday is not the same Jesus as we’ll get to know tomorrow. This may come as a surprise, but it’s because the liturgical cycle of the church year is not a static circle. It, like the Earth’s rotation around the sun, and our journey with God does not ever come back to square one where we began.
Our journey if we look at it head-on may appear like a circle, but if we look at it from another angle, we would see a spiral. If you draw a circle and trace it with your finger, when you get back to the point you began that point is not the same point. Time has passed and you are no longer the same person that began tracing that circle. You are no longer the same person as you were a year ago. The Christ you received into your heart last Christmas will not be the same as the one you receive this Christmas. Your insights have moved on, your beliefs, your principles and dare I say, your theology.
The mystery of Christmas invites us into a participation of a new journey with God. New revelations await. The students of the school discovered a Jesus who they did not know all about. They learned why we open presents on Christmas Day. They learned that Christmas is a mystery so great that we need to prepare ourselves for what would be revealed. They also learned that sometimes people can walk right through a mystery and not even know it was there.
At this time of year, when families gather for a few fraught days, let us remember the poignancy about Christmas that focuses our hearts and minds. Let us remember that the cycle we find ourselves participating in doesn’t just affect our lives, but those around us. Let us remember, as the Earth begins tilting towards the sun again, the warmth that the Son gives is as incarnational as the sun warming the Earth.
A very merry Christmas to you all,