Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Every sense is brought into play at Christmas, as indeed is every emotion. It is a time of profound spiritual richness. It is also a very busy time for nearly all of us and a time of disruption to our usual pattern of life. The possibility of enjoying and relishing the spiritual feast is often overshadowed by the work in the preparation for the family and community feast.
This, I know, can lead to great frustration and resentment to some in our church communities. It is tragic that the individuals who would most appreciate the prayer and worship of the festival are the ones who bear the brunt of the preparations and all the anxiety that can accompany it. I have seen mothers in tears at Christmas because they were prevented from attending worship by the demands of their family.
There has to be something profoundly wrong about this. It may be that this family dilemma does not affect you, but it will be a real issue for many readers. The question is often put: ‘How do we keep Christ at the centre of Christmas?’ The first necessity is to recognize the problem. Many people would be mortified to know the spiritual cost of ‘making Christmas for the family or for guests’ to those who find themselves responsible for ‘making it happen’. Having recognized the problem, its solution is found in planning ahead. Does the Christmas household know when services are taking place? It is useless to find out on 23 December when the Christmas services are timed. There should be an earnest conversation about attending church, as there is about who wants what for Christmas.
The preparation for Christmas might also include some thought about bringing prayer and worship into the home and family at Christmas. These prayers might include special prayers of thanksgiving for bringing us together and intercession for those unable to be present. Simple prayers from the heart around the dining table are powerful. There is also the gift of Christmas Carols, most of which can be sung without any accompaniment and many by people of all ages. It is perhaps the last Christian festival which provides a language for prayer and worship in which most people are fluent – put it to use.
There is also the Christian iconography of the Crib and the Candle, both of which should find a central place in the family at Christmas. Why not make a point of placing the Christ Child in the crib on Christmas Day with everyone present and welcome the Lord with a Carol? Likewise displaying the best Christmas cards, that is to say those that celebrate Christ, can create something akin to a prayer corner in the living room. But the key thing is to think about all this now, for as certain as Christmas Day is on 25 December it will come out of the blue like an express train!