Letter from the Vicar (December 2009/January 2010)
Every year, up and down the land, Vicars tell people off for making Christmas too materialistic and for neglecting the essential meaning of the season. Of course there’s some truth in that criticism.
Christmas for many people is just about presents, parties, pantos and pints. Material things, the trimmings, can dominate Christmas and we can forget the heart of the matter. But I think we clergy are mistaken if we focus too much on the perils of materialism. I do not believe that the materialistic side of Christmas is at war with its spiritual meaning. In fact I would go so far as to say that the opposite is the truth. For the message of Christmas is nothing less than the staggering fact that the spiritual is to be found in the heart of the material. At the climax of the Gospel for Christmas from St John comes the incredible statement ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. In other words, God himself has actually entered into our human world, our material human condition. What this shows us and means is that to encounter God we don’t have to escape away from the world God has made and all the things that go on within it. Rather it is into this material world of ours that God has come and still continues to come. When he was in this world Jesus himself entered into life in what some might see as a materialistic kind of a way. He was known as a glutton and a wine bibber. In one of the gospels the first miracle he did was to turn water into wine. Jesus was not an escapist. He believed you could and should find God in the midst of the hurly burly of life.
So as we celebrate our materialistic Christmases again this year don’t let’s think of God or Jesus as somehow a bit cross with us or a bit distant because we’re having a good time. He’s right there with us and enjoying our parties with us. Jesus meets us wherever we are. We mustn’t think we can only find him in quiet churches or holy places. He’s there certainly. But he’s also with us in all our celebrations. And, of course, he’s also there for us in our sadnesses. A wise man once said that Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions. I believe that to the very core of my being. And I believe it because at Christmas we celebrate the good news that God the Son, the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ was born as an ordinary human being, so blessing and making holy our world for ever.
It is that we celebrate. It is that we sing about. It is for that reason we receive Christ in the form of bread and wine - themselves material things. It is for that reason that Christmas day is the greatest day of the year!
Yours sincerely and a happy Christmas,