So here we are in December already! Just where has 2018 gone?
In my house the kids are well into the routine of running downstairs while it’s still dark to open their Advent calendars and scoff the chocolate that was hiding in its plastic den behind its mask of card and foil. It’s a strange way to start the day when you think about it.
Well I wonder how you are counting down the days til Christmas? The number of weekends left? The number of shopping days to go? How many presents you still have to buy? How many days at work or college left til the holidays start? Many of us clergy count down the number of services.
Safe to say that I have got quite a few between now and Christmas Day! And that includes a lot of singing and a lot of carols. In fact, last year I smashed my personal best and hit 25 renditions of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ in December. I am going for 30 this year.
Of course, Christmas isn’t always an easy time, for all sorts of reasons. And for some of us the counting down will be accompanied by more of a sense of fear and sadness, rather than excitement and anticipation. Indeed, sometimes the fear and sadness is made worse by a feeling that everyone else is having a great time while things are pretty rubbish for us – and no one seems to notice or care.
Which is where the real story of Christmas comes in. We are so used to brilliant nativity plays featuring tinsel crowned angels and shepherds sweating in tea towels and dressing gowns that we lose sight of the reality that Christmas is actually the story of how God steps into all the mess of the world as a baby born to two young parents alone in a strange and unfriendly town. The Christmas story is a story all about loneliness, exploitation and insecurity in a culture of greed, violence and cynicism. And it is a story that tries to tell us that because of God those things no longer have the final word.
Instead, into all of that stuff, comes God speaking a new word of life and love; bringing light and hope; establishing peace and justice. It is a story of God peeling back the layers of reality to show that what we see isn’t quite all there is and that the future he comes to bring is far greater than anything we can imagine; far exceeding anything we might wish for and that any fairy godmother could produce.
What it opens up for us is the possibility of a world where light breaks in and triumphs over darkness, where need is dissolved and is transformed into human flourishing, and where everlasting love wins over hatred and abuse and restores what has been destroyed and torn apart.
On Thursday night that’s the story we will be telling again at the Yorkshire Evening Post Carol Service. You are welcome to come and join us at Leeds Minster from 7pm.
Through carols and readings we will hear again the real story of Christmas and, as ordinary people wrestling with all kinds of joys and hopes and troubles and sorrows, we will turn away from the shopping and planning for an evening to reflect on how each of our individual stories finds its place in the great Christmas story of God coming to us, as one of us.
Now that’s something worth celebrating surely? So why not come and join us.
The Reverend Canon Sam Corley is the Rector of Leeds.