Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without her…she’s a very old family friend…she may show the marks of her age…and yet she has pride of place in all our family gatherings. Let us introduce you to …(Pause for drum roll)…yes, it’s our angel! She first belonged to Sheila’s grandmother, who was born in 1865 and was presumably given to her sometime in the next ten years. That makes our angel nearly 150 years old. It’s always a special moment when one of our grandchildren takes her out of the box and fastens her to the very top of the tree. She has presided over the Christmas celebrations of generations of Sheila’s family.
She’s just one of the many examples of the mingling of biblical fact and Christian folklore that surround us as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. For starters, here are just a few of the inaccuracies that are unsupported by the biblical text:
- angels are female and have wings
- the wise men were kings and there were three of them
- the wise men visited Jesus in the stable
We know that elements of our celebrations echo the Roman festival of Saturnalia and became absorbed into Christmas celebrations – for example, the use of evergreen and the exchanging of gifts. That said, these are just trimmings that the early Christians adapted to celebrate a momentous factual event – the birth of Jesus, a life-giving world Saviour whose self-giving love can transform us individually and lead to the transforming of societies.
For me the most reassuring feature of the Christmas narratives is that so many of the key players were outsiders – that’s true of the insignificant family from Galilee, true of that bunch of ritually unclean shepherds and true of those wise foreign travellers. The story proclaims again and again, in banner headlines, this Gospel truth that God’s love is for everyone, whatever our backgrounds. His love knows no bounds. When, in the coming days, our imaginations are set alight and we stand in wonder in the stable, we know for certain that God welcomes us in and invites us to play our part as one of his family. Wow!
Looking up at our angel at the top of our tree, I’m always reminded that, though generations come and go, there is a central narrative that’s at the heart of Christmas. It’s summed up when, famously, an angel told the shepherds,
‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people: a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’.
That’s a truth really worth celebrating every day of our lives.. but especially in the week ahead.
A very happy Christmas to you all!
Geoff Marshall-Taylor (Church Warden)