Yesterday was one of those dull, wet days where it never really got light. I was in town for a meeting which finished around dusk. Emerging into the stidgeon (sp?) gloom, I was struck by the cheery brightness of the lights.
A visual reminder that Advent is about such defiant expression of joy, hope, life...
As the shortest day draws nearer it's good to be surprised by moments of lightness and brightness.
Whilst searching a well known online store, I stumbled across "The Epic Party Game: Santa vs Jesus" and I think I am going to treat myself to it, and, hopefully persuade a few folk to join me in playing it over the "holidays".
It's a great play on the annual festive conundrum or tension that faces those of us who profess to be Christian.
Rightly, we wonder if we should refuse to join in the make believe with our children/grandchildren because how are they to believe what we say about Christ if what we say about Father Christmas is, for want of a better word, lies.
And yet there is another way of looking at it that moves beyond true/false fact/fiction binary distinctions to truth-bearing.
The stories and customs around St Nicholas have very early origins and arose from generosity to people who were poor. Anonymous gift-giving is a wonderful thing.
My former boss used to say, with a twinkle in his eye, that it must be true, becuase it happens every year... he didn't mean he believed in a literal Sannta Claus, he meant that the spirit or essence of Christmas was an important truth re-enacted, however badly, year in, year out.
Even the theologian John Hull used Father Christmas in his excellent work "What Stops Christain Adults from Learning" (a clever and inspired choice because of precisely the parallels with the Victorian, sentimental nativity).
So, Santa versus Jesus? Well Jesus wins, for me, every time because his story is richer and fuller and more demanding. But Santa... well, on the whole he seems to be pretty harmless, it's human greed that turns him into a money-grabbing monster!
Will you be hanging up your stocking or pillow case? Will you set up a nativity scene? Either, both, neither? Whatever you decide, I hope your Advent and Christmas have a winning formula.
Yesterday a very small group of us were in the church building taking out the last remaining bits and pieces (mostly to the dump), swtiching off all non-essential power supplies, checking the alarms, and, where needed, changing or adding locks.
One of the very last things to be lifted down, from a long abandoned corner, was this 'welcome' sign. Alas it is damp and probably carries spores of mildew so we had to let it go, but the sentiments remain.
Welcome - or its absence - is a self-evident Advent theme. We have created a whole myth of inhospitable inn-keepers, and invented a stable, from a tiny detail in Luke's birth narrative. And in so-doing we have discovered, or expressed, an important truth about human nature, the suspicion of 'other', the challenge of 'one demand too many' and of course the Biblical/faith-based imperative to welcome the stranger.
I find myself pondering welcome in two directions/dimensions...
First, and probably more important, to whom can, should and will I extend a welcome?
Secondly, where, when and how do I recognise myself being welcomed by others... i.e. I am alert enough to recognise it when it happens?