Thursday, December 10, 2009

Whose Christmas Is It?

The Blog of Kevin on the dilemma of churches up and down the land

The balance we have to strike every year is that we want people to come to our carol services; we want some contact with them, we want them to catch a glimpse and maybe even a full-on view of the real, transforming Jesus. At the same time, that is not what most people are expecting or wanting. They want Away in a Manger sung by little children, some candles a familar (short) reading and nothing more. Not even coffee and a mince pie.

So how much do ‘we’ do Christmas ‘their way’ for ‘them’, because we don’t want to alienate or upset’ them’; and how much do we do Christmas for ‘us’, real and honest and raw and authentic, brazenly mad and ridiculous and dangerous a story as it is, politically murderous (the killing of the babies), historically pertinent (Palestinian refugees from a controlling state) and socially alienating (look at the reaction to Nick’s book).

This is pretty close to the truth, if a bit overstated. For a start I'm not sure there's such a clear line between 'them' and 'us'. But the expectations of people coming to Carols by Candlelight, or a Christingle, don't allow a lot of wiggle room. Having said that, it's within the comfort of the familiar that something provocative, or challenging, or engaging, has the room to breathe and grab people.

But I take the point at the end: if we started afresh, with the Christmas story, and didn't have any of the cultural barnacles, is this how we'd authentically celebrate it, or would we do something else?


  1. ... and how do we feel if "they" turn out to be more "real and honest and authentic" than "us"? Matthew 8:12?

  2. Did a limited bit of research on this last night, a baptism family who said that the first thing they do at their annual visit to the crib service at a nearby church is to look through the order of play to see if their favourite carols are on the menu. No different from the rest of us then....!

  3. Thanks for posting my post... Alan, I would love for 'them' to be more real and honest and authentic than us, and for that to rub off on the rest of us. That would be a great conversation to have after a Christingle. "You weren't authentic enough, vicar, we want less tinsel and more rawness and dangerous wonder." Uncomfortable for us, but then that is the point.

  4. I believe we have to take people as they are and not try to change their instincts.

    I have come to believe that Christmas is like a warming blanket for many when they remember their childhoods and the joy they had with their families. Some of that they rightly want to give to their own children.

    However false the snow, tinsel, trees and romanticism that Christmas brings it does at least given people pause to think about their lives and maybe spend just a little time reflecting on God.

    If you want raw then why are you not doing it in the bit of Advent up to the 16th - that is the place for it!

  5. Kevin D - I think you're right, though I'm not averse to tweaking people's instincts a little bit. At Yeovil College Carol Service yesterday, the expectations are for something a bit more creative, so we had dance, rock band and gospel choir items, a theme of rich and poor, and one of the readings was an account by a relief worker of last Christmas in Bethlehem. It seemed to strike the right note, whilst at the same time having a slot for the college nursery to do a mini-nativity tableau with a couple of songs.

    10 of my 20 carol/Christmas services are before the 16th! Effectively I run on two tracks for December, one is the carol services (our first was a Christingle last Sunday) and the other is Sundays - a fairly crunchy sermon on John the Baptist, and what to do if you're in a morally compromised job. But that's another post!

    The other issue is that for many people Christmas is pretty sad, it's blue rather than white, and tis not the season to be jolly, despite what the song says.