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Christmas is coming

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December and the Church’s calendar moves our thoughts to Advent and the preparation for Christmas. Far from leading the way in this, the Church, as in many things, seems to lag far behind. The shops and garden centres of the land have been ‘getting us ready’ for Christmas since mid October. Taking a wrong turn in Woolworth's the other day I find myself assaulted on all sides by plastic sparkly October Christmas tat. I pick up a furry reindeer and instantly regret it. Rudolph screams out his red nose song causing sharp glances from surrounding customers. I retreat still chastised by the reindeer’s cry as I slip through the exit doors.


Despite my Scrooge-like cynicism, Christmas plc is one of the few places where society expects and even demands the Church to take its rôle. We look forward to packed carol and nativity services, cards of snow covered churches, and candlelit Christmas cheer. The Church has its place in many people’s hearts at this time of year; and yet what is that place? Why are so many drawn to these ancient buildings, songs and readings at Christmas in particular? Is it sentiment in something past? Something we feel the family should be involved in? Or is there the sense as we mark the passing of another year that there is something other, something unseen and spiritual beyond our grasp?


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One of my favourite authors when I need something light and funny to read is Terry Pratchett. He writes about a fantasy place called Discworld which often has a surprising and critical resemblance to real life. A few years ago he wrote a book about Christmas[1]. The plot begins with a group of dark and shady people (the auditors of reality) hiring a top assassin (Mr Tea-time) to assassinate the Hog Father (Discworld’s version of Father Christmas).  Faced with what appears to be an impossible task (flying reindeer are obviously going to make the Hog Father difficult to catch), Mr Tea-time comes up with a cunning plan.  He stops people believing in the Hog Father and without belief in him the Hog Father ceases to exist. The problem becomes evident as this creates a surplus of unattached belief that makes the beasts of dreams and myths come alive. The place is soon overrun with tooth fairies and the plot focuses on restoring belief in the hog father so ‘the sun will come up’.

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Not everybody’s cup of tea perhaps but I wonder if there is a connection with much of society’s view of Christmas. The Church has its place in a festival but do we take part because we believe in Christianity, or because we believe in the festival? It makes us feel good or bad in some cases but deep down is the Christmas story just a story, a reason to come together and celebrate? What if people stopped believing in the benefits of the Christmas festival, decided they no longer needed the comforting prop of Christianity?


Well personally you will be glad to hear I have changed my mind on the matter. A surprising encounter with the reality of God in university meant I had no choice but to reject the hypothesis that Christianity is simply a story created by people, for people. I believe that this Advent we prepare to remember the FACT of the birth of the physical Jesus Christ in the backwater of Bethlehem who was and is the Son of God.  The proof of this is shown by Jesus’s death and resurrection to new life: a life seen through the bible by His Holy Spirit in the lives of those that know him today. ‘For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests on his shoulders and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’[2]  Where does your belief lie this Christmas, in the plastic tinsel of a feel good Christmas? Or in the promises, love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ?


Ralph Kemp




[1] Pratchett T. HogFather, (1996), Corgi Books: London.

[2] The Bible New Revised Standard Version, Isaiah ch 9 v6


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