Rev Norman Smith says make the most of the early build-up!
Dear Friends, I think it was August this year that I saw my first Christmas item for sale in a shop. The first reaction I had was “oh no not already”. Every year it seems we are starting Christmas earlier and earlier with the usual pressure to start spending money. Then once it’ over, no sooner have we blinked than Easter Eggs start appearing and there is more pressure to buy.
Yet both Christmas and Easter demonstrate that Christianity stills plays a significant role in our nation. From August through to December we are surrounded by things that point people’s mind to the story of the stable. Nativity sets, decorations, stars, Advent Calendars, carols and so on.
For many people they are traditions which make our Christmas. Can you imagine a Christmas with no trees or no carols? Although most people today do not know the real meaning behind many of our traditions they are an opportunity for those of us who do to talk about them.
Rather than being a chore they are actually an opening for faith to have centre stage.
Many years ago, when he was travelling around the near east on his missionary journeys, Paul arrived at Athens. He found there a great centre of learning with fine buildings, smart people and saw for himself how the Athenians were not unspiritual. You can see what he wrote below:
When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with. Acts 17:23
It would have been very easy for Paul to condemn them since they had so many shrines and they were patently neither Jewish nor Christian. He could quite easily have castigated them for their willingness to worship anything and everything. Yet he chose a different path.
He engaged with their culture because he saw it as an opportunity. Here was a chance to use their own customs to talk about Jesus. Was he successful? Look at what happened.
At the phrase “raising him from the dead,” the listeners split: Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes; others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more.” But that was it for the day, and Paul left. There were still others, it turned out, who were convinced then and there, and stuck with Paul–among them Dionysius and a woman named Damaris. Acts 17:32-34
If Paul had stood aloof and refused to engage with the Athenians then people like Dionysius and Damaris would never have heard the gospel story. It was his willingness to engage that made all the difference.
Lessons for today
Where does this leave us today?
How about rather than lamenting Christmas starting so early we instead should see it as an opportunity. When the Christmas merchandise goes into shops in August and the first tree goes up in October (or before!) let’s engage with people and talk about why every day is Christmas day for Christians. After all God’s love is given to us every day of the year and any chance to remind people of that is a good thing.
This year let’s not be like Scrooge and say Bah Humbug to Christmas but let’s be like Paul and take the opportunity to tell people about the God whom many have no idea is behind our Christmas traditions. I hope you all have a very blessed Christmas.