The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
I make it no secret that I love Christmas
Scrooge and I would just not see eye to eye at all – there’s no humbug in it for me, just pure joy. But am I just really in love with the fantasy of Christmas? For me that fantasy is a bit like the recipe for a Christmas cake, so many ingredients to create that incredible flavour.
The Christmas inside my head is about trees and carols and snow, it has elements of ‘Home Alone’, ‘White Christmas’, ‘Frozen’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, lashings of Band Aid, the Pogues with Kirsty McCall, Noddy Holder, Phil Spectre, Michael Buble, its about a sprinkling of memories of selection boxes, Blue Peter annuals, the Radio Times special, waking up early on Christmas morning and wearing paper hats. In my head and in my heart there’s such a fantasy of Christmas.
But if I stop fantasising, just for a moment, I suddenly realise that most of the Christmases that I’ve enjoyed have been nothing like that. Presents break as soon as you look at them, the turkey is tough, grandma snores in the corner, the tele is rubbish and it rains all day. Reality impinges on my fantasy and the magic and the sparkle and the glitter and the angels seem to disappear.
The truth is that Christmas is both about our fantasies, let’s call them our dreams, and it’s also about our reality. Christmas is about the joy of anticipation, the building up of hope, in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane. Christmas is about arriving in a town in the dead of night and finding that the inns are full. It’s about being given a stable instead of a warm bed in which to have your baby. Christmas is about heaven breaking into our harsh reality.
Just as we were about to begin the countdown to Christmas, before we’d even been able to open a single door on our Advent Calendar and enjoy the chocolate hidden behind it, this community was drawn into a second terror attack. The events on the other side of the river at Fishmongers’ Hall and then on London Bridge, the deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, the injuring of bodies, the disturbing of minds, the reopening of wounds, the stirring up of memories, made for a harsh beginning to the anticipation of Christmas. But this was the reality in which we started to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
I was at a carol service the other day and looking through the order of service beforehand realised that the choir would be singing my favourite carol. It’s called ‘Bethlehem Down’, the words are by Bruce Blunt and the music by Peter Warlock. They wrote it together in 1927 to finance a binge drinking session that they were planning for Christmas Eve that year. They wrote the carol, entered it into the Daily Telegraph Carol Competition for that year, won and I suppose drank the winnings! Perhaps not a great reason for doing it. But what they produced is deeply poignant and shockingly honest.
When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown.
In nativity plays in schools and churches across the world a doll is wrapped and laid to rest in a manger, but the child as a man will be wrapped in other cloths and laid once more to rest, in a tomb. Jesus is born into our harsh reality because we exist in the real world, you exist in the real world and it’s to the real world that God comes, in peace, with hope. We mustn’t allow the fantasy of Christmas to obscure its reality.
But, you know, we also need a touch of the sparkle and the magic of Christmas to shine into the world, we need Disney, we need Michael Buble and a fantasy of Christmas to make us realise the truth of what is so amazing, that God is with us, that heaven touches earth as a child is born.
Feel some of the magic of Christmas now and face the reality of tomorrow when it comes, knowing that when it does come God is with us, God is with you.