There was a television show on just recently, where they counted down the best 20 Christmas toys of all time. Now I don’t know who came up with the list, and I’m not altogether sure I completely agreed with their choices, but there were many I recognised. (But I still don’t understand how a Rubiks Cube came above Lego!)
Watching the programme it reminded me of my own childhood and I could remember some of the toys that I’d received as Christmas presents. I also remembered the feeling of hopeful expectation as Christmas approached. The expectation was focused on what I hoped I was going to get, and I’m sure the whole story of the nativity was almost incidental! It also reminded me that I was pretty useless at the concept of waiting.
We’ve been hearing in the readings at Mass throughout Advent, that we are in a time of preparation, a time of waiting for the main event, a time of getting ready for the celebration of the feast of Christmas. In faith terms this can be taken as an opportunity for a bit of spiritual reflection, a chance to re-balance and if necessary make adjustments to our lives, so that we can once again welcome the infant Christ into our hearts and minds.
In secular terms it has been no different. The media is full of advertising telling us how we should be buying those all important presents, how we should order food to avoid disappointment, and being told to post off our cards and parcels in good time because the Royal Mail is expecting to be extra busy this year. The television schedules are full of good ideas for variations on the traditional Christmas meal, including a selection of recipes for sprouts! (I like sprouts by the way!)
For most people this year, Christmas will be spent differently from how they traditionally would do, because of the restrictions of the Covid pandemic. We won’t be able to physically be with some family and friends, and so it will feel considerably different to what we normally think of as Christmas. We are grateful that there is the opportunity for many of us to utilise technology to stay in touch, but having my iPad at the dinner table, and being virtually at a couple of other dinner tables will seem rather strange.
Various sources have suggested that Christmas could/should be ‘delayed’ until the middle of next year. That to my mind is a good idea if we were just talking about the family get together and the party aspects of Christmas, but are we?
For many the whole focus is drawn away from the nativity and into the festivities of everything that surrounds our modern day Christmas. It is right that we have the celebrations, after all what bigger party could there be than the whole host of angels of heaven singing for joy. The shepherds rejoiced and hurried to join the family celebration, people all coming together because of the birth of a child. The Magi giving thanks and bringing gifts – an echo of our present giving.
But for me, what is it that I’m actually waiting for?
In terms of my prayer and spiritual life, I would suggest that we have all been affected by what has happened this year. The opportunities that we perhaps took for granted to receive the sacraments have been thrown into turmoil. Programmes and retreats that I was either to lead, or participate in, were either cancelled, or adapted to be given via technology. And for the first time that I can remember, I, and many other deacons and priests, have presided at more funerals than baptisms in the last 10-12 months.
As a consequence, all of us have had to adapt to a new focus, a new way of seeing Christ in everyday life, and a different emphasis to our prayers and the prayers of those around us. Many people have struggled at times to see God in these distressing times, and yet everyday we have seen those ministering to the sick, the frail, the vulnerable, the lonely and the anxious in ways that we would have never dreamed would be needed.
Everyday, in the various ministries that I am privileged to be part of, I have, and continue to see, the selfless giving of people, that truly demonstrates the call to discipleship of “Love your Neighbour”. That fills me with awe and pride that our Christian values are what makes the world a better place. In the hospital, in the school, in the parish and all around us, there is hope and love brought to life by the people that I meet. Each in their own individual way, and each as equally important as the next.
In waiting for Christmas, we are given the opportunity to consider how our call to faith started. The life, the journey, the baby into man of our Saviour. When we think of Christmas do we consider the enormity of the GIFT that God the has given to us?
So as we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, let us not forget what a gift it is.
Deacon Ian Black