4th Sunday of Advent 18 – Rev Jim Cogley Our Lady's Island.
It’s the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas is nearly upon us. It’s that time again when there are so many layers to our celebrations. The first is the layer of consumerism from which there is no escape. It begins earlier every year and comes into full swing as soon as Halloween is over. It’s that aggressive selling of goods that puts pressure on people and suggests that without the latest gadgets we can’t be happy. To have more is to be more is its message and so it encourages acquisitiveness among children, fatigue among adults and anxiety about overspending. There is no escape from this but it does have a hollow core and to go overboard leaves us not just broke but empty and unhappy as well. Various studies have shown that those who spend the most usually end up the most miserable.
Then there is what could be termed the Charles Dickens layer to Christmas, of the family get together. Peace and goodwill to all people, turkey, ham pudding mince pies and the works. It’s the time of exchanging presents, giving to charities, with a bit of philantrophy and expansiveness mixed in. When asked why she liked Christmas one kid replied because people smile more and even my family are nice to each other for a change! This version of Christmas is what most people have a shot at but in the absence of faith what does it amount to but a bit of respite at a dreary time of year, some pious phrases, a few gifts given and received and then everything goes on as before. A woman looking to buy Christmas cards was heard remark, ‘I don’t want any that are too religious,’
Then the 3rd level of Christmas is that of the crib which depicts what Christmas is all about. It’s the story of the First Christmas often told in the School Nativity plays which for all their simplicity can be deeply moving. Like children who listen to a good story everyone likes to hear it over again. It never fails to touch our hearts.
The 4th and deepest layer is the spiritual one. It’s the story of how 2000 years ago in the land of Israel a baby was born. After 1000 years of waiting with numerous prophets foretelling his coming, this child, born to the humble maid of Nazareth was to be the Son of God. He had come to take our human nature on himself. Coming into the world in weakness and in love he was to remind us that we are all Gods children and have an eternal destiny. For saying yes to his coming through her his mother Mary has nominated a few years ago as the most powerful woman of all time. This was not by the Pope or any religious grouping but by the totally secularist magazine National Geographic. She did foretell that, ‘All generations will call me blessed.’
Should we dismiss the first three layers in order to have a truly spiritual Christmas? Absolutely not, to do so would be to suppose that the spiritual and the material are opposed to each other, which they are not. Christianity includes both matter and spirit. It was into the world of matter that Jesus came, so there is no such thing as a spiritual life apart from a human life and therefore no purely spiritual Christmas. For far too long our faith has been presented as too other worldly where the goal of life was to get to Heaven. Christmas is about God coming to meet us at our level so the true goal of life is to come more down to earth by making God real in our world.
Much of the buying and selling that happens at Christmas puts food on tables, pays bills, fosters gift-giving, encourages good works and affirms family ties. How could all that not be spiritual.
What Christmas reminds us of is that if God who is Spirit takes flesh then there is no clear line of division between the secular and the sacred between the human and the divine. Even between soul and body. In fact all four layers are so interwoven that they amount to one and the same thing; they are all manifestations of the one Spirit who created them.