Revd John Grundy, former student, President of Northern College, URC Ecumenical Borough Dean for London Borough of Lewisham and minister of two churches in London has been kind enough to offer us a reflection this year.
I appear to have become one of those people for whom Christmas simply arrives far too early. This year, the supermarket close to where I live transitioned seamlessly overnight from Hallowe’en merchandise to the joys of mince pies and baubles, and bam! the festive season had arrived before November had properly started.
There does seem to be a standard to what Christmas is supposed to look and feel like nowadays, and perhaps we should consider where that comes from. Christmas movies, adverts for supermarkets and our own nostalgic rose-tinted memories of Christmas-past all add to the stereotype of what the perfect Christmas should be.
It seems there should be food cooked to the standards of Nigella and Mary Berry, shiny gifts wrapped perfectly, a huge tastefully decorated tree that never seems to drop needles, a blanket of snow that doesn’t turn to mucky slush in seconds, a log fire blazing away in a well-dressed fireplace. This all sounds wonderful, but is it a realistic picture of what Christmas is?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wrap presents. Frankly, any gift I wrap looks like I had a fight with the Sellotape and wrapping paper, I don’t have a fireplace and I don’t know anyone who is able to manage to produce a Christmas table that looks as perfect as the ones the adverts seem to insist that we should all achieve.
I don’t think Christmas is supposed to be perfect, and this year certainly seems a lot less perfect than many others. We all know that Christmas might be a huge challenge for many.
The Christmas story the Gospel writers Luke and Matthew share with us is challenging and gritty. It’s a story of a teenage mother; a town overbooked; a borrowed live-stock space for the birth; unwashed agricultural-workers ‘fresh’ from the fields being the first to visit; a despot king being triggered by visiting stargazers; this is not a story which is pretty and perfectly wrapped.
What the Christmas story is though, is a story of love.
It’s God’s outrageous and all-embracing love choosing to work at a level humanity can work with and relate to. The awesome nature of God opting into the messy version of all humanity is – the difficult travel plans, the ugly wrapped presents, the confusion, and any tensions we face. It is love, in Jesus, the most perfect gift we can ever receive, given to us in the most loving way that we can receive Him.
On behalf of the Northern College family, I won’t wish you a perfect Christmas, but I hope and pray it will be a time filled with love and peace.