3rd Sunday of Advent (c) 2018
A friend of mine went into a shop the other day and asked the assistant if there were any religious Christmas cards left. The assistant looked at her blankly and asked: “what do you mean”. It was obviously a strange request: a religious Christmas card: wouldn’t a wintry scene or a Santa Claus do?
It’s possible to enjoy Christmas without religion: most people do after all. But religion is more than going to Church. Religion, God, His goodness, can be seen all around us. Like last night I walked round Trafalgar Square. It looked beautiful with all the lights: the Christmas tree, all the people, the man with his smiling son on his shoulders. This wasn’t Church but I just felt good being there: my mind and my heart were raised up.
But many of the things that make Christmas Christmas aren’t strictly speaking religious; they don’t take place in Church. The exchange of presents is very special; especially if you’ve got children. But even if you haven’t it’s till wonderful to be given a present by someone: there is a child in us all, who wants to rip off the wrapping paper and see what’s inside. It’s probably be a pair of socks or something, but that doesn’t matter: it truly is the thought that counts. My little niece who is eight, inorder not to get socks or anything she doesn’t want, makes out a list of what she wants: I noticed that fourth on that list is money!
Then there’s the traditional Christmas dinner: a time when we all get together, or try to. And even if we can’t be together we think of those who are absent: those who have gone before; we think of Christmasses past. The family are together; for some it’s possibly the only time in the year when we are together. Then we pull crackers, put on the silly paper crowns and read the innocent jokes. It’s often a time of laughter, when we tell stories, often about the family: the silly things that Mum or Dad said or did. And we laugh.
Then the Christmas food is different than we normally get: most of us don’t eat turkey each day. Nor Christmas pudding. It’s a time for justified indulgence: we eat and drink too much and it’s o.k. We’re supposed to. It helps us sleep in the afternoon.
Now this is how many people will spend their Christmas. It will be a time when we see people at their best. Not everyone of course, and sadly, for some, Christmas is a sad time: people can be very lonely at Christmas, even in a crowd. But notice how: the family being together, giving presents to say, without words, I value you, and even I love you, and sharing a meal together: all these things are also what Christ came to give us.
But Christmas day hasn’t come yet. We’re still in Advent: the time the Church sets aside to prepare for Christmas. As Christians we enjoy Christmas as much as anyone, and probably more than most. And uplifting and good as the decorations and Christmas dinner are it has to be for us more than just this: which is already a lot. We have to prepare our hearts and minds and our souls. But we don’t have John the Baptist running around telling us to prepare the way of the Lord. But we do come to Church, and we do hear the word of God: and John the Baptist, speaks to us today through the readings we’ve just heard.
He continues in this way to say to us: prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare your hearts. Go to confession to experience something of the love and mercy Christ came to give us. Let us keep Christmas holy. Santa Clauses and robin’s are important, but, even more important is the figure of Christ. And remember this: when on Christmas day, you feel good because someone gives you a present; or, when you laugh till you cry listening to family stories, remember that this is what Christmas is about; and know that the Kingdom of God is very near to you.