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illustration, Martin Williamson oobbybrook.com

written for the Pevensey Bay Journal
Published Wednesday 11 December 2019
with special thanks to Tony Windross, the vicar of Pevensey

Given the way Brexit and the election have been grabbing the headlines – Christmas seems to have got a bit side-lined

There’s all the shopping to do, of course (even if it’s just opening the door to the Amazon delivery driver), all the food to sort out (don’t actually do that myself, preferring to leave it to a resident expert), and all the cards to write (ditto).

So there’s plenty to keep our minds off the weather. But is Christmas just a distraction from the dark and the cold and the wet? A much needed season of jollity and family get-togethers at a miserable time of year? Or something a lot more as well? Something that can easily get overlooked in amongst all the busy-ness?

Everyone knows the nativity stories (there’s not just one) – and watching your children in nativity plays is an absolute must. But lots of people don’t realise the stories have plenty to offer grown-ups as well. You’ve got to dig below the surface a bit – but if you do that, they can take you in all sorts of surprising directions.

Because the themes are timeless (and heart-rending) – they never lose their relevance.

A young girl (only about 14) who’s pregnant and unmarried, who gives birth in homeless poverty, who becomes a refugee, desperate for somewhere safe to bring up her baby – and whose son eventually falls foul of the authorities, who torture and kill him at the age of only 33.

About as gritty and painful as you can get – and we sanitise it at our peril.

Taking the stories seriously, forces us to ask what our attitude is to those like Jesus’s family – the poor, the homeless, the frightened?

When we say ‘God is Love’ – what we’re actually saying is that ‘Love is the only thing that matters’. And if we actually mean that – it’s got real implications for the way we treat others – especially those who are struggling.

And so at the very time of year we’re encouraged to spend, eat and drink as if there’s no tomorrow – we’re also encouraged (if we take those nativity stories seriously) to look out for those who have no home and no hope.

How do we balance these?

How do we decide how much self-indulgence is reasonable? (because there’s nothing wrong with letting our hair down at Christmas) And how much is just plain gross?

No easy answers to that.

And whilst religion might help – in the end, it’s something each of us has to work out as best we can.

It’s fascinating where those stories of a tiny baby in a grubby stable can lead.

But if we once allowed them to take us out of ourselves – it would be the best Christmas present ever!

A very Happy Christmas to you all.

Father Tony Windross