Amid the clamour of consumerism, David Essex singing “It’s only a winter’s tale” stopped me in my tracks in the middle of the supermarket. I have no idea why. I don’t know the rest of the lyrics, only the title. It’s not one of my all time favourites, but perhaps the music evokes memories of childhood Christmases from the deepest recesses of my mind. Salvation Army bands have a similar effect at this time of year. Is it pure nostalgia? Is it me getting older? It all adds to the poignancy of the season.
But it seems to me that the origins of the festive season are increasingly being obscured by the tinsel and trappings. The consumer world promotes a celebration of a different kind, requiring us to gaze in wonder at the latest toys and gadgets and have our best Christmas ever.
Is the Christmas story “only a winter’s tale” or is it a tale of huge cosmic significance – one that Professor Brian Cox would be proud of, if he chose to believe it? The King of Heaven breaks into our earthly existence in Roman occupied Palestine in a totally unexpected way. He arrives as a baby to a trusting Mum and an embarrassed step-Dad. Shepherds out in the fields, familiar with the night sky, were stopped in their tracks by an unusually bright, moving star. They followed it to a stable in Bethlehem. They knelt and worshipped a new born baby. Wise men had also seen that star and made a journey from a far away country. The gifts they brought held clues to his royalty (Gold), his priestly calling (Frankincense) and his ultimate sacrifice (Myrrh). I doubt they came to worship in confident faith. It’s more likely they came with unspoken questions.
Not much is recorded as the baby grew through childhood to manhood, developing carpentry skills in the family business. But at the age of thirty, he began to fulfil a destiny foretold by prophets hundreds of years earlier. He was compassionate with those whose lives were impacted by poverty, oppression and sickness. He became known for his teaching, his miracle working and his faith. He challenged the religious leaders of his day as to the authenticity of their beliefs. He talked about the Kingdom of God. His three year public life ended in what seemed like a cruel, untimely death, and a disputed resurrection.
His life is a historical fact. He has had a huge impact on history, influencing the lives of individual men, women and children world-wide to this day. Yet his birth, public life and his death were all surrounded in controversy.
So as I hear the sound of David Essex singing his familiar Christmas anthem, I pray that, despite the increasing secularisation of Christmas, generations to come might not lose sight of the reason for the season, and approach the Christmas story with honest questions, because it is so much more than a winter’s tale.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Luke 2:8-10
Image Credit: Dan Kiefer