24 November 2017
The Hope of Christmas
Northern Presbytery Moderator’s Christmas Letter 2016
Christmas is a time of tradition. It may be the only time of the year when wider families have time to gather, and friends have time to reconnect. It is a time when we do things the same way. Christmas dinner tends to be the same food and if you have a family shared dinner then you know that Sue will bring her pav and Uncle Sione his freshly dug potatoes, with Auntie Ellen complaining every year about how he does it in his best clothes after church, “why doesn’t he get them the previous day” and every year he says, “well dear, they have to be fresh” and cousin Kath will buy a flan at the Cheesecake Shop and pretend she made it!
There is a predictability that roots us into our relationships and the life of those around us. Maybe that is one of the reasons many find the Christmas season difficult. Because, no matter how much we try to have the same routine each year, WE change, and it is at Christmas we remember and are confronted with the difference.
The loss of family is most keenly felt at times when we celebrate. There is a bitter-sweetness in the gatherings.
Uncle Sione’s potatoes may be missing from the menu this year but then Auntie Ellen turns up with dirt on her skirt and a bundle of new potatoes. “They have to be fresh you know”, she says, wiping away a tear, “ and he did plant them for Christmas and we’ve going to have them for Christmas” and everyone is silent for a moment remembering the big laughing man who gave so much and how they had gathered at his graveside only a few months ago.
Christmas is a time when we can’t not remember. We see the gaps caused by death and changing life circumstances. Sam is present by cell phone this year, video phone instantly showing him travelling in the snow of Norway, missing terribly the New Zealand sunshine. Children who used to play round the tree now bring their own children and their partners, who may have different customs.
Or we are alone, family a long way away, friends too frail to meet with us anymore. Some families are split as their parents cannot get on any more.
Grandparents are left to hold the traditions for the sake of the next generation at a time when they thought they would have been enjoying just being the grandparents. All these circumstances are present in our congregations and communities. The celebrations of Christmas can seem unreal and we can be tempted to just pretend it will all go away as the sharpness of disappointment and lost hopes are facing us.
But it is this very bitter-sweetness which is embedded in the faith story of Christmas. A couple alone, travelling, a new born baby in a strange town, not even a suitable place for the birth. We are told this is how peace comes into the world, quietly, angels singing, to shepherds of all people, and a cradle which has the shadow of a cross over it. The Christmas message reaches into our pain and gives us hope.
This is the child who brings life to the world. Auntie Ellen knows about this as she digs determinedly in the garden for the new spuds for Christmas. Death does not end things and life is given for living.
Grandpa George knows this as he drives miles to pick up grandchildren from one parent so they can share the Christmas with the wider family.
The best Christmas carols are those which have within them this deep understanding of our human longing and bring us God’s hope and healing. The sentimental commercialism of Christmas will not help us as we grieve the past and the present world of trouble and war but the faith which Jesus gives us touches our bitterest hurts and enables us to hear the angels’ song of hope.
The old carol
“it came upon a midnight clear” sings of that Christmas hope to those who are tired and weary
With sorrow brought by sin and strife the world has suffered long
and, since the angels sang, have passed two thousand years of wrong:
the nations, still at war, hear not the love-song which they bring:
O hush the noise and cease the strife, to hear the angels sing!
And those whose journey now is hard, whose hope is burning low,
who tread the rocky path of life with painful steps and slow:
O listen to the news of love which makes the heavens ring!
O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!
May you celebrate the love of Christ in your lives this Christmas time, the love which refreshes us with new hope for living and loving, and the blessing of the Christ child stay with you all this Christmas.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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