December 2016 – A Christmas and New Year Letter of Reflection

Dear Friends,

The Party which is Christmas

The festive season is upon us! The final chapters of the Book of Revelation (Chapters 21 & 22) describe the marriage feast of the Lamb, a vision of the culmination of all things. The prophet Isaiah looks forward to time when there shall be no more suffering and all peoples will be gathered together to enjoy “a feast of rich food, a feast of well matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well matured wines strained clear” (25:6). The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes commends mirth “because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.” (8:15) Jesus is present at a wedding feast where he provides the equivalent of 180 gallons of the best wine when the host’s supplies run dry. (John 2:1-11) It is in the context of the Passover feast, the Last Supper, that Jesus leaves us the primary way of celebrating his risen presence, the Eucharist.

At the heart of the Gospel is an invitation to party! Many of us will receive invitations to party over the next month, but for what purpose and to what end? It is a tragedy of modern life that the seasons of Advent and Christmas have become an excuse, not to engage more fully with the mystery and wonder of world, but to escape from it in an alcohol induced stupor. Like anything that becomes an idol, the fermented fruit of the vine becomes not a blessing with which to celebrate life, but a vicious curse which destroys life.

Birthdays are celebrated because individual lives are valuable and precious and the people with whom we celebrate hold special significance for us. The Birthday of Christ reminds us that each of us is valuable and precious and that we hold special significance for God himself, so much so that he comes to share our humanity, the divine becomes human in Jesus. This event demands response. The response of the shepherds is wonder; the response of the wise men is worship; the response of heaven is the singing of the angels, and in the midst of all this, the response of Mary is to “keep all these things and ponder them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Wonder, worship, song and silence; if these qualities are practised, the party has purpose. On the other hand, the response of foolish Herod was blood soaked fury as he seeks to destroy the Christ Child. All too often, excessive alcohol unleashes an unfettered fury at oneself and the world, destroying the very relationships which so often come into sharper focus at this time of year.

Excessive amounts of money will be spent in the materialist melee which many feel the festival has become, yet the incarnation is unashamedly materialist, honouring and valuing the stuff of creation. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) As human beings we have dominion over creation (Genesis 1:27-28), a gift given to us for the good of all. Creation is to be enjoyed and celebrated, exploited for God’s own good purposes and the festival of the incarnation becomes an opportunity to bring that into sharper focus. Do we abuse that creation for our own selfish ends with all the consequences of global warming, poisonous air and polluted seas or does it become real gift, cherished and celebrated?

At the heart of Christmas is the gift of Christ himself, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The gift of Christ draws us back into relationship with our loving creator God, so that our relationships with each other and the created order can find their true significance once again.

So there is much about which we can party even in these politically and economically uncertain times. And the greatest party of all remains in that simple act at the heart of the Eucharist in which we proclaim “That God was Man in Palastine/ And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.”

I take this opportunity of wishing you all a “merry”, very happy and richly blessed Christmas and New Year.

Fr James