Advent is a time of preparation, the time to buy our presents, write our cards, buy extra food, prepare cakes and pudding and to visit relatives and friends. We’re convinced that it should be a time when we enjoy ourselves and push the boat out – party time. In previous years I’ve found myself doing things because somewhere deep within me I feel it’s necessary, or at least expected. I have to admit that I love buying presents and cooking and creating a magical atmosphere for the children but this year I am going to try very hard to keep it simple and enjoyable.
Each year as a minister I find myself holding in tension the timeless story of God’s amazing gift to us at Christmas and the traditions which I can’t, or don’t want to escape from entirely. I wonder what Jesus would make of Christmas as it has evolved in this country, what would he make of our traditions and the way we do things? I have a strange feeling that he may be a little bit puzzled and wonder how on earth we have got here from his birth in a humble stable in Bethlehem.
It‘s good to celebrate, Jesus himself enjoyed wedding feasts, Passovers and meals with family and friends. He would understand our need to celebrate but it’s all too easy to forget what we are celebrating in the rush and busyness. Do we forget that there are different perspectives? That his mother was unmarried (a stoning offence in those days), that Joseph had to come to terms with the unimaginable, that he was born not in a palace but in cave and that the family effectively became refugees? It’s a very dramatic story indeed and if we’re not careful we can get caught up in the twee-ness of the image on our Christmas cards and forget the struggle.
This little family struggled as people struggle today. I would like to suggest that maybe this Christmas we should stop for a while and think a little about the world in which we live and what we are doing and why. The reality for others this Christmas time may indeed be very different from our own. For some Christmas will be a headache, for those who are lonely, or struggling financially, or those who are estranged from their families or are in the depths of a crisis, or bereavement. From their perspective Christmas is very different.
We have the opportunity to make a difference this Christmas in many ways, maybe by small friendly gestures around our neighbourhood. Also the gifts of toys and goods that you have brought during December will be given to an organisation called Voluntary Services Lewisham (formerly known as the VCC).
At Christmas time VSL provides hampers for elderly and isolated adults, food hampers and supermarket vouchers to families, and toys and books to their children. The aim is to help vulnerable and isolated individuals and families on low incomes trying to make ends meet, at what can be a very difficult and isolating time of year.
VSL also support social services, local hostels and other voluntary organisations by providing boxes of food, toiletries and toys for them to distribute to their service users. A visit to the pantomime is arranged each year as well as a Christmas Day lunch held in a local church.
Every year they need volunteers to help sort and pack goods (there is a mountain already, evidently), help with shopping, and record keeping and data entry. Activities begin in November and continue until Christmas week. They also need volunteers to help on Christmas Day with setting up for the meal, serving food and socialising with guests. Volunteer drivers to transport guest to the lunch and home again later in the day are also needed. If you’d like to help, or go to the Christmas day lunch please contact me at my office in Forest Hill – 0208 291 6996.
We also continue to support the Food Bank week by week. These efforts should never be underestimated – they make a tremendous difference to people lives every week, when people have nowhere else to turn.
I think the man who was born in that stable so long ago would not be puzzled by such things as these.
Happy Christmas my Friends,