Is your Christmas tree up yet? How about adding a Quality Street purple-sweet glass bauble to your collection, or any of the other Quality Street collection in glass for that matter? Alternatively, do you have a green balloon dog bauble to adorn your tree? Perhaps a cottage post box bauble, or even a glass pizza bauble would complete your decorations. Interested?
I happened to be in Glasgow City centre and wandered into a well-known Department Store where I found myself diverted by a myriad of weird Christmas decorations which have no direct relevance to anything remotely ‘Christmas’ (in the sense of relating to the birth of Christ). As you will have concluded, I spent an entertaining time exploring an entire section devoted to themed baubles. There is nothing new in this, but I was struck by just how vast has become the selection of, what may be termed, non-Christmas, Christmas decorations. At the same time, I looked in vain for any reference to the birth of Christ. I could not even find a nativity set.
I should hold my hands up and say we have our own Christmas decorations that have little to do with anything Christian (tree baubles, of a more pedestrian globe variety, for a start, with associated tinsel dangling on an artificial tree). However, the distracting time I spent exploring the Christmas decorations section of the department store, puzzling over such oddities as a Christmas snowman snow globe, fluffy penguins and even a life size Pheasant decoration(!), to name but a few, reminded me that there are really two different celebrations being observed at this time of year – we might even say, two different Christmases.
Increasingly the more public celebrations have little or no reference to the Christian origins of Christmas. It is probably the most important secular holiday in our calendar (certainly in commercial terms) and, as such, has taken on a life of its own. It seems that, as the years pass, the origins of Christmas are becoming less and less well known. Before the pandemic we would run a 2-hour event for Primary 6 pupils from the local school entitled ‘Bubblegum and Fluff’ which, through drama and storytelling, related the events of the first Christmas in a straightforward way. It soon became apparent that these actual Christmas events were entirely new to many of the children. On one occasion, an attending child provided us with the benefit of his family wisdom ‘My dad says this is just made-up stories’. I expect he believes in Santa Claus!
Let me be clear: I am happy to share in many of the good things of the Christmas season that my non-Christian neighbours enjoy. Christmas has become a festival of lights, and as I write this the annual Dalry community Tinsel and Torchlight event is fast approaching, the centre-piece of which involves the formal switching on of the Christmas lights. The idea of light banishing the darkness echoes the profound Christian conviction that an outside intervention brings hope to our dark world.
Christmas is a time of gift giving and generosity, which for believers is a natural response to the extraordinary self-giving of Jesus, as he left behind the glories of heaven and embraced our humanity to go to the cross for our forgiveness. God didn’t send a message about salvation, he came in person as a saviour, come to die for us.
Christmas is a time of year when attention is given to those in greatest need. Apparently charitable giving in the UK is highest in December. Obviously, the concern for the needy is reflected in the way our Lord entered this world into abject poverty and obscurity and in his early years lived as a refugee in Egypt.
Yet each of these themes, when more fully understood, is deeply challenging and provocative. To truly embrace the New Testament theme of darkness and light we must see ourselves as spiritually blind, lost, and helpless, desperately needing the light of Christ to rescue us from our hopeless predicament. Jesus came into the poverty of Bethlehem, and amidst a poor family, not simply to identify with the poor, but because we are all so spiritually poor that there was no other way for us to be forgiven. And when it comes to gift giving, Jesus gives himself to us, but our response to that gift must be a wholehearted and sacrificial giving of ourselves to him.
To many people, all of this is a bit less ‘warm and fluffy.’
Christmas, by which I mean the advent of our Lord, is truly wondrous, but it is also deeply challenging. Indeed, when the message of Christmas is genuinely embraced then it is profoundly threatening to our instinctive, proud and self-assertive autonomy. The great hope Jesus offers cannot be enjoyed and received unless we admit that we cannot save ourselves and that unless the light of his unmerited grace shines into our lives then we are lost. Our natural condition is spiritual poverty until we receive his riches. Yet when we grasp how costly it was for Jesus to give himself up to the cross, plunging into an impenetrable darkness unlike any anyone has known as he took our sin to himself, then we can surely respond by trusting him and giving our lives to him.
Jesus comes to human hearts with gentle tenderness. He beckons us to receive Him, knowing that in Him there is a fullness of life only experienced in knowing Him and in discovering the joyous liberty of bowing to His Lordship over our lives. Then the true joy of Christmas remains long after the baubles are gone.
Saturday 16th December 10.30am St Peter’s episcopal church: Interchurch carol service
Sunday 17th December 10.30am: Joint festival of lessons & carols in St Margarets Church
Sunday 24th December (Christmas eve):
Traditional carols by candlelight 6.30pm in Trinity
Christmas Day: 10.30am Family service in Trinity
Sunday 31st December Watchnight service 11.30pm St Margarets
Once again, this year during advent, we shall give opportunity to help and support Christians throughout the world who are persecuted and in need, through Barnabas Aid. Should you wish to give a gift please place it in a clearly marked envelope and place it in the offering plate. The official website states: Barnabas Aid works to provide hope and aid for suffering Christians. As part of the family of God, Barnabas Aid stands with our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, wherever they suffer discrimination or oppression as a result of their faith. In this way we witness to the love of Christ and build His Kingdom.
You may have noticed the water penetration problems in the stairwell to the balcony at the front of the church. Rectifying this problem requires emergency roof repairs which will probably have begun by the time you are reading this. The initial costs are estimated to be around £25,0000, which will leave us with a much-depleted fabric fund.
Any gifts, or monthly standing orders, to the fabric fund would be most welcome and can be organised through Bill Mackay, our treasurer.
Fortnightly, beginning Friday 12th January 7pm
Based on the so-called parable of the prodigal son, the material from Timothy Keller shows how the Gospel is neither religion nor irreligion, morality nor immorality but something entirely different.
The Prodigal God is for both curious outsiders and established insiders of the faith as it is meant to lay out the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel. If the teaching of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous parable would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way down to the bottom. – Timothy Keller
This is a 6-week study following Keller’s short book ‘Prodigal God’ and will be an opportunity to discuss together after a shared meal and brief video.
The meetings will be fortnightly on 12th, 26th January, 9th, 23rd February and 8th, 22nd March.
For the purposes of catering and organisation it would be helpful to have an indication of numbers. Either fill out one of the cards which will be available in church, or email the minister on MThomson@churchofscotland.org.uk
‘Not Just another Christmas’ by Dave Gobbett
Most of us know what to expect when it comes to Christmas: the lights, the food, the tree, the traditions. But it’s possible to be so familiar with the trimmings that we walk right past the main act: Jesus.
This small booklet, based on John 1:14, explains why Jesus’ message is one that you don’t want to miss, and how he can turn “just another Christmas” into something altogether more memorable.
Over the festive period we will be distributing copies of this booklet together with invitations to Christmas services.