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December 2020 - Christmas is cancelled

Friends,

We are familiar with the Christmas story. Each year it is rehearsed, celebrated and shared, even in small ways by the most secular of individuals. Light, hope and peace; joy, birth and celebration; food, drink and family. It is a cycle that is diligently observed, not least by people of faith.

This year, however, we are getting used to alternative narratives being told – alternative truths. Watching the veritable car crash of American election cycle play out, we have seen something of a master class of alternative narratives. Truth, honour and dignity have rather taken a back seat, and some seem to have sold their souls to follow blindly and unquestioningly. A narrative of win or lose, truth or lie, loyalty or faithlessness, is being played out on a dangerously large scale.

In our own country we have also begun to hear an alternative narrative that tells us that 'Christmas is cancelled', families might not be able to gather, shopping might all have to be online, office parties will be abandoned like the offices themselves, and all joy will be snuffed out by the officious. Might we simply give up and postpone all plans for twelve months?

For a long time, in my zealous youth, I thought that the Orthodox Church was on to something. They celebrate Christmas on or about 7th January, following the Julien calendar. This, I decided, would wonderfully divorce the commercial Xmas from the religious Christmas, thus liberating us to focus on the 'real deal'. Having mellowed over the years this is not a mast I would choose to nail my colours, or anything else, to, but there is still something in it. There are two clear alternative narratives that play out each December. One is about creating a space to receive a humble (if fantastical) story of a child born to be king – but in a radically regal alternative mould – and the other is about creating a commercial space that assuages our avarice and meets our bloated social obligations. Both of these narratives can operate entirely independently of each other.

As the USA thrashes about in the birth pangs of delivering a new government, we enter a season of waiting and preparing for what is to come, and our own pregnant pause which we call Advent. Our stories may clash, our stories may subvert one another, but our fundamental values are to be clung on to at all costs – truth, love, peace, service and community. 

Christmas may not be cancelled, but rather a reclamation of simplicity. If we are sharing the vulnerability of a new family, the uncertainty of state powers in conflict, of tyrants who cling to power, of simple kindnesses, of love, of gratitude of a roof over our heads, of hope for peace – then perhaps we are in touch with the truth of Christmas after all.

Nick Bird
your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the December 2020 issue of The Grapevine