MESSAGE FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT MINISTER
The other day I was reading about a local man who won a medal in the First World War – for what was officially recorded as “Conspicuous gallantry”. It turns out that this is the requirement for most gallantry medals – your courage must be “conspicuous”, which basically means you must do something terrifying in front of everybody else. You don’t win a medal, it seems, for inconspicuous gallantry or for just being scared.
A feature of Christmas has been, in recent times, its conspicuousness. We put colourful trees in our windows and bright lights on our roofs. We send lots of cards to make sure people know that we are thinking about them. We are tempted to buy far more food than we can ever eat by glossy advertisements on television and even if we are miserable, we like to project the image that we are having a good time.
This year things might be a little different. My Christmas, like many people’s, will be a victim of the pandemic. My family can’t come over from Germany; my sister and her husband are still being careful because of health conditions and I am nervous about seeing my elderly mother for any length of time in case I put her at risk. Like many of you I will probably spend most of Christmas on my own.
In the church we will be binning our usual festivities. We won’t be able to sing our favourite carols (or even our unfavourite ones) except outside in the cold at 2 metres distance. There will be no mince pies after the service and no hugs on Christmas Day and no affectionate passing of the peace at midnight masses.
This might, understandably, make us feel downhearted. We may be overwhelmed by disappointment or loneliness. But perhaps we also have an opportunity to contemplate what an inconspicuous Christmas looks like. What are we left with if we strip away most of the gloss, the greed, the froth and the forced jollity?
Well I guess we are left with two things. We are left with the reality of our own lives – and if we are brave we can take a good look at what is most important to us. Much of the conspicuousness of Christmas is just an attempt to cover up things we do not really want to face – do we really want to be reminded of things we have messed up, of relationships that have fallen apart, of people we love but who are no longer with us? Do we really want to face our disappointments and our insecurities?
Yet on the other hand it is only we face the truth about ourselves and the world that the real meaning of Christmas comes into view. Jesus came into a real place which was as messed up as our world is today. He came to a real family which was facing disappointment and scandal and which had been uprooted – not just once but twice. Jesus came inconspicuously – unnoticed by most people – except the poor and humble and the spiritually wise who recognised that something life changing was happening in front of them. And the truth of the incarnation is that Christ still comes – and he will be present with all those who are prepared to quietly and bravely look honestly at themselves and the world - the inconspicuously gallant. You will not get a medal for experiencing Christmas this way – but it could be the best Christmas you ever had.
May you experience the peace and transforming joy of Christ with you at Christmas.