Why we do the Christmas Do

One of the trickier elements of the festive season is undoubtedly the works Christmas do. Leaving aside its reputation for an unhelpful conjunction of body parts and photocopiers, to say nothing of ill-advised fumblings in the stock cupboard after a surfeit of something brash and black-curranty from the new world, even a relatively tame trip to a restaurant to indulge in cracker-pulling and rubbery chicken with colleagues can leave one bored, dyspeptic and longing for Newsnight.

We had ours yesterday, in a fashionable eatery, albeit at an unfashionably early hour. Some, I note, are naturally good at knowing what to wear at these things. They either go to the trouble of packing their party frock and bringing it to work, or they manage to add sparkly bits to the business attire, turning the serious professional into a party monster at the drop of a sequin. Others are less successful, turning up tired and dishevelled in the garish outfit they’ve worn all day at the charity jumper event. Still others haven’t even managed that, the removal of a tie or a smearing of fresh lipstick being about as far as they go down Celebration Boulevard.

The seating arrangements can also be a white-knuckle ride of indecision and blind chance. Those with clearly-defined tribal loyalties usually arrive together and sit in a discrete group, looking exclusive even if they don’t mean to. But those with no particular belonging or who work across an entire organisation are drawn into a game of random distribution in which they wonder about trying to squeeze in among the beautiful people and bright young things; to take pity on whichever group seems to have been consigned to social Siberia; or (wisest and best course) to sit in the first available place and let the evening unfold.

And this is the purpose and great redeeming feature of the works do. We spend time with those we might not often spare more than a Good Morning, and listen to those we normally only ask How are you? without attending to the answer. Even those who sit in their department groups are showing and seeing different sides from their nine-to-five selves, maybe even saying some important stuff before the volume is driven skywards by the wine, and the thoughts of many turn towards the boom-boom-boom of dancing and spirituous liquor.

But in those quieter, perhaps quite trivial moments over the pollo prosciutto and chocolate mousse, links are made that form and strengthen us. The sharing of a meal and party hats is a laying-in of resources for tougher times when battles rage. The one who tells us now the great saga of the replacement hip or windows will then, perhaps, be the one who feels just a little bit more able or inclined to inch closer in our need.

And what better time for this than Christmas? Even though for many the gospel has long since ceased to resonate, or possibly never began, it is still a time of midwinter light for the giving and forgiving of friends and families and the turning to a new year in optimistic hope.

And it’s a time for hearing again that it was God’s beautiful face and loving heart that we were shown when a baby was born in Bethlehem, and when the baby grew — to say and do and die and rise just as he did.

So pull that cracker with abandon. Put on the paper crown. The people around you may save your life one day.

The baby did.

Happy Christmas.

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A Christmas Invitation

At Christmas I find myself wondering why people don’t get Christianity; why they don’t rush to it for the reality it offers which is far richer than any brandy-sodden fruit cake.

Surely it should have been so simple. Jesus was a good man, a prophet and social agitator. He wanted the poor to get a better deal, and to release them from religious laws. Hasn’t the Church lost sight of this? Hasn’t everything got way too complicated? Just too religious? Why talk of God becoming human? Why can’t things be kept simple?

Christmas points to a mystery that is both deep and simple. We say that God becomes human in Jesus because Jesus’ life is so selfless and transformative that Christians quickly recognized that what they saw in Jesus was the clearest possible image of the invisible God.

The Church teaches that if you attach yourself to Jesus, you plant yourself in the deepest and only reality there is. He is more real than houses and cars; more real than a smoke of this or a drink of that. He is more real even than human love, though human love is the best way we have of exercising God’s love. We can grow more like God by giving ourselves, like Jesus, in the self-forgetful service of each other.

And what is there not to like in that? How can people bear to keep away? Why would we avoid reality for ourselves, and justice and fairness for all? Answer: because it’s hard. It means looking at ourselves and the world honestly, and deciding to make sacrifices. It means choosing Path A over Path B because Path A is better.

Luckily the Church provides Christians as a cast-iron excuse for staying away from God. Christians are always revealing their paid-up membership of the human race, and are easy to dismiss as fools and hypocrites.

But that easy dismissal won’t help to fill the hole in your own heart, or to deal with all the deep-down stuff that’s doing your head in.

For these and other matters, God’s your man. You’ll find him sleeping and stirring, a little lump of human life, in a crib near you, this Christmas. All you have to do is turn up.

In Croydon, you’d be warmly welcomed at St Andrew’s, Southbridge Road CR0 1AG. Why not come to our School and Community Carols on Tuesday 20th at 7pm? Or bring the kids to be a Living Crib on Christmas Eve at 3pm? Or come to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at 11.30pm. Or Christmas Morning at 10am. Whatever you do or don’t do, have a very happy Christmas.

A Hymn for St Nicholas

HYMN                                                                                        Kingsfold

 

In dark and dismal winter days,

the dying of the year,

the soul is seared with bitterness,

the heart oppressed with fear.

But Advent kindles welcome hope,

and in that hope we sing

on this, the Feast of Nicholas,

the praise of Christ our King.

 

In days of peril, danger, sword,

Saint Nicholas endured:

by chains confined, to cell consigned,

he served the risen Lord

whose cross he bore each day with joy,

whose Gospel path he trod;

a faithful bishop in the Church,

a servant of our God.

 

His flock he tended by the sea,

the deep was all their toil;

on white-flecked wave their ships sailed home

with corn and wine and oil.

But when, in ocean’s rage and swell

their hearts and hopes would break,

Good Nicholas would fall to prayer,

“and all for Jesu’s sake.”

 

To fill them with the finest wheat

he emptied out his purse;

the humble poor were his delight,

to Kings he was a curse:

the innocent he saved from death

when justice fled the land;

he trusted in God’s strength, and stayed

the executioner’s hand.

And when he heard a father’s grief

(“Three daughters! All in thrall;

condemned to brutal slavery,

the vilest trade of all …”),

he freed them from their cruel bonds:

his gold he freely shared;

a dowry gave he them who thus

for love by love were spared.

 

Such is the tale of Nicholas,

whose fame will never fade,

who, for the sake of God-made-flesh,

preserved the flesh God made:

and, as we share in Christmas gifts,

we praise the God who gives

himself. the greatest gift of all,

to us, and all that lives.

 

Sophie Fowler, b. 1963