What was your favourite Christmas present as a child?
As a child, presents were never really the main focus of our Christmas celebrations – although my sister and I certainly enjoyed them! The main thing for us was spending time together as a family. Whether that was helping cook the turkey, walking the dog, playing games, or just watching TV in the evening, that family time was key. We occasionally went to church, but for me at that time it was just another tradition – mainly attractive because of the carol singing, and of course the mince pies. I could have quoted from various sermons that “Jesus came to save me from my sins”, but what that actually MEANT, I had no idea!
As an adult, how have your feelings about Christmas changed over the years?
Having become a Christian while at university, Christmas now means so much more to me than it ever did before! Christmas is no longer just one isolated day at the end of each year, but part of something much, much bigger. I had assumed in the past that Jesus Christ only existed for the 33 years he lived on earth – and that was his whole story. I remember being absolutely astonished to learn that he was actually around long before that – the Bible says that he was there since before the creation of the world, as he himself is God! And more than that, he still lives today in heaven, and will one day return to judge the world! This was an enormous revelation to me, and gives Christmas a huge amount of significance. That Jesus, the Son of God, would humble himself to be born as a human being, in order to give us sinful people the possibility of a personal relationship with God, and eternal life after death with him in heaven – still seems unbelievable to me at times. Yet it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us who enjoy a good carol service! (Something I do a lot of, in my work as a musician!) In addition to many Bible passages which explain this clearly, if we look closely at some of the words we sing in carols time after time, we see that “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all…and he leads his children on, to the place where he has gone”. Likewise, we sing of “Christ the everlasting Lord” and of “God and sinners reconciled”. God’s own reason for Christmas? “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die!”And the result for the rest of us? “Not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by, we shall see him, but in heaven set at God’s right hand on high. When like stars his children crowned, all in white shall wait around.” (Carol excerpts taken from ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.)
In a sentence, what does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas is about the past AND the future, not just one day…there is a lot more to Jesus than just the baby in the manger.
I thought I’d get that in nice and early, after all, we all know that there will be Christmas stuff in the shops even before they’ve discounted all the unsold choccy eggs. Easter eggs were spotted for sale in the Highams Park Tescos on Dec 30th last year and I’m pretty sure (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), that you can buy Hot Cross Buns all year round pretty much anywhere in Britain.
I am undecided as to whether this is a good or bad thing.
Here’s why –
We celebrate Jesus’ birth because he died and was resurrected. If he’d just dropped off this mortal coil and was never heard of again, he’d be just another travelling religious nut job.
We celebrate Jesus’ death because he was born a human being. Jesus gave up a cushy life in heaven to live a life of suffering and poverty. God himself, came down to earth to have an intimate relationship with us and died so that we can all experience that relationship.
The 2 events go hand in hand – like love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage…
This fact is so important that a day should not go by when we do not consider his birth, death and resurrection. It should become part of our daily lives, like drinking tea, cleaning our teeth, going to the toilet and eating dinner (not all at the same time). The Jews were told to write God’s words on their doorposts to remind them what he’d done for them; so it’s great to have a reminder of what Jesus has done – on the supermarket shelf and piped on the top of our currant buns.
But then what happens when it loses its impact? When the celebration of Jesus’ amazing sacrifice becomes reduced to a melted brown smear of chocolate on the face of a small child (and subsequently all over the sleeve of their mother’s nice new top…), when people wear it as a nice piece of jewellery because they like the design or just use it to ward off the vampires that hang around on street corners after dark?
The cross was a barbaric method of torture – physical and mental. If you were sentenced to death by crucifixion you were exposed, to all who saw you, as the worst sort of criminal. You hung there and slowly died of asphyxiation as your lungs were crushed by the weight of your own body.
That is what you are eating for your tea; an ancient method of torture and execution as your afternoon snack.
That is how much God loves us; that he himself would take the punishment that we deserve in order to have a relationship with us.
Jesus was no criminal – he’d committed no crime – yet he was sentenced to death.
We deserve that death.
For Easter this year we’ll be serving ‘Hot Electric Chair Buns’ or maybe cakes with an iced gallows on the top, that way they may do the job that they’re supposed to do – be a visual reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. We might even pull a cracker or two.
Happy Christmas Everyone.