by Jenny Arnold and Pastor Leslie
At the heart of a Christian’s Christmas is a yearning for something better – to focus on Jesus, celebrate His birth, and proclaim His love, grace and saving power. In the run up to Christmas is Advent which focusses on preparation for Christ’s Second Coming, the Great Judgement when we will all give an account for our lives at the end of the Age to Christ, and preparing our souls for the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas which begins Christmas Eve night.
Below Jenny reflects on her own Christmas, the importance of Advent, and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Then she paints a sad picture of the reality for many today, without Christ, and sadly for many Christians who also are lured by the world’s trappings.
The verses that came to her mind in preparing this were Jeremiah 2:12-13, ‘The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” says the Lord. 13“For My people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!’ Our joint prayer is that believers will not lose themselves in all the worldliness that can surround Christmas, heed the prophet’s challenge, and drink the Spirit’s living water instead.
We finish together by offering Jesus as God’s way, truth and life for all who will believe in Him and follow His Way for life.
My Childhood Christmas
As a child being raised in the Anglican tradition, and attending a Church of England primary school, my family had what was known as a traditional Christmas. The Christmas tree never went up before Christmas Eve and did not come down until Twelfth Night had passed – which was January 6. It was always a real tree and usually almost touched the ceiling of our living room – or perhaps that is my childhood memory. I can still recall the scent of those pine needles and the joy of coming downstairs on Christmas morning to see presents lying beneath it.
Christmas presents were always a surprise. Yes, we might write a letter to Santa asking for special items but we did not expect them as a right and certainly we may never have got them. This was for several reasons: i.e money was tight and our desires did not in those days extend to technology or state of the art equipment or designer clothing or greed.
My parents would also never have even considered the option of borrowing money on credit and I was raised in that way also. I do recall that one of my best ever presents was a ‘new’ red bicycle.
It wasn’t new in fact but came from a rather more well off family down the road and was Susan Whittaker’s old bike. But it was red and it was now mine and I was very happy to have it as it was my first grown up bicycle.
Another year I was given the present of my very own hamster complete with cage. I called him Minty (I think because he was pale brown in colour and you could get toffee mints that same colour). He was the first in quite a long line of hamsters throughout my childhood as they really don’t live more than 18 months or so and was buried in my grandmother’s garden one summer holiday and the spot marked with a wooden cross.
We didn’t have heaps of presents either but a filled stocking and one main present which as I grew older was often clothes that I desired but which were not deemed to be of necessity everyday items.
We always went to Christmas Day Service but we never took along our presents to show off as seems to be the custom these days although I don’t understand why that is.
Usually we had a large chicken or goose donated by my parent’s friends who were farmers and my mother made all the mince pies, pudding and cake.
My parents never had alcohol in the house but an exception was made at Christmas and my father would place on the sideboard on Christmas Eve one bottle of gin, one bottle of sherry, one bottle of lime cordial (for the gin) and one bottle of Advocaat which as I recall no-one ever drunk!
We also had a bowl of mixed nuts on the sideboard (in their shells), a box of Turkish delight and a box of marzipan fruits. I would like to return to those more restrained and gentle days, and I think we would all be better off for it.
Greed did not come into the equation. We did not need boxes of biscuits by the ton (just why are there so many boxes of biscuits piled up in the supermarkets?) or huge quantities of chocolate so necessary it seems at Christmas thee sedans and nor did we need litres of every kind of alcoholic drink imaginable.
We just had a gentle day with a few presents, giggled at the cracker jokes and at our Dad in his party hat and weather permitting a stroll after lunch to walk it all off. And we were content.
I do recall that the only time my mother took a drink was on Christmas Day evening when my father would pour her a very weak gin and lime and she would get a little tiddly.
It was gentle, it was happy and we were content. We also knew that we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and we knew that this was the reason for it.
Preparing for Christmas – Advent
Traditionally, Advent is celebrated by Christians during the preceding 4 weeks prior to Christmas Day itself on December 25. The word Advent means ‘coming’ in Latin, and this ‘coming’ means the coming of Jesus Christ into the world 2000 years ago. This ‘coming’ is not only the birth of Jesus but includes and encompasses two further ‘comings.’
The second ‘coming’ can happen now to any person as Jesus wants to come into our lives now – a salvation coming for everyone who repents and believes in Him. And the third ‘coming’ refers to the future when Jesus will return to our world, not as a baby but as King and Judge.
It is not certain when Advent was first celebrated but we do know that it dates back 567 AD when monks were ordered to fast during the month of December.
Some Christians still choose to fast today in order to concentrate their minds on Jesus Second Coming; and in many Orthodox and Eastern churches Advent lasts for 40 days and begins on November 15. This fasting period is also sometimes known as the Nativity Fast.
Advent Candles are also a major part of the Christmas season with one candle being lit each Sunday of the advent season. As a child I understood the advent candles to represent the following:
- The first candle represented Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets who foretold the coming of Jesus.
- The second candle represents the Word of God, the Bible
- The third represents Mary, the mother of Jesus
- The fourth represents John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry on earth.
- The firth Advent candle represents Jesus Himself and this one is lit on Christmas Day itself to signify that Jesus is the light of the world. Amen.
In many churches also, the colour purple is used during the season of Advent and Christmas to represent the Kingship and Royalty of Jesus Christ.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Contrary to what people now think of as the Festive Season, the season of Christmas only begins on December 25 as everything before that date is about the ‘second coming’.
The Christmas season begins on December 25 and traditionally ends on January 6 which is known as Epiphany. Epiphany in Greek means ‘to reveal.’ It is the day when the Magi (also known as the 3 Kings or the 3 Wise Men) having followed the star, found the baby Jesus in Bethlehem where they found Him with Mary and Joseph, and presented their gifts to Him.
These were not gifts as such but portents of His Kingship gold – His suffering and His death myrrh, traditionally used as an analgesics offered to those suffering crucifixion – and frankincense was used in temples both to worship God and also used to embalm bodies after death.
Eastern orthodox Christians actually celebrate Christmas on January 7.
But just look at us now…
Sadly, for many Christmas has become a pagan festival complete with Bacchanalian orgies, and we all must wear a Christmas jumper by order of the retail trade and the media.
The Christmas ‘creep’ begins before Halloween, or All Hallows has ended, and snowmen are lit up before winter has officially begun and we are still in Autumn. Fake trees are everywhere sometimes even before December 1.
A frenzy of shopping commences as if one’s life depended on it, and people are seen with not just one large trolley in the supermarket but, yes, two over burdened with food ensuring a rise in slimming world membership in the new year.
Now that I am recuperating well from my replacement ankle joint operation, I have started to get out and about a little more and it is really quite unpleasant after my several weeks of seclusion at home.
I was at the hairdresser having a long awaited appointment last week, and was forced to listen to a tirade of frustration, annoyance, complaint verging on anger as one hairdresser and her seated client embarked on a discussion of festive cheer.
Well, not cheer. It didn’t sound as if their respective festive arrangements were bringing them any joy at all. So much shopping to do, so much money having to be spent (the client was dreading her credit card bill in January), meeting with family members they did not want to meet with and nagging children who were expecting to be rewarded for their nagging with the latest phone, tablet, hair dryer, perfume, toys, games, clothing, handbags, and the rest.
But there was some good news amongst it all. Yes, alcohol was on offer at Morrisons, and pretty much every other supermarket and they had been buying boxes of chocolates and tins of biscuits since September so were well stocked up and would be ready to diet in January. Oh dear.
Sitting in Tesco coffee shop awaiting my friend to finish her shop, I listened in to another conversation at the table next to me. This conversation seemed to revolve around the lack of taxis, and the expense of them for picking up from clubs and pubs after Christmas parties. It was seemingly a real worry as of course no-one would be able to drive following an alcohol fuelled Christmas party.
I read recently that a radio presenter had even been castigated for mentioning Jesus in a Christmas themed programme.
Well does the Bible say that the people of this world are deceived – ‘But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived’ (2 Timothy 3:13). Revelation 12:9, ‘This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.’
1 John 2:15-17, ‘Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.’
A Few Thoughts
So you may be able to see how very far removed the meaning and practise of Christmas has become from its origins. It is so sad that our world now worships at the cash register or in the local pub or club and that fasting has turned into gluttony.
But let us think of some of the side effects of this deceived outlook. There is a much darker side to the festive season than most of us would care to think about or even acknowledge. Whilst our TV screens are filled with emotive images of happy families with loving parents and well cared for children, the NSPCC (national society for the prevention of cruelty to children) report that child abuse and neglect increases massively at Christmas.
Domestic violence also increases at Christmas and the police report that they have more call outs to attend domestic incidents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day than virtually any other day of the year apart from New Year’s Eve.
Why the spike?
There are trigger points which heighten abuse and cause fear and tension to both women and children at this time of the year:
– tensions at home are heightened as household budgets are stretched to fulfil the expectations of both children and adults
– separated families come together and women and children are easy targets for frustration and stress from abusive partners and parents
– men prone to abuse generally spend more time in the household environment at this time of year and vulnerable children are unable to escape to schools and nurseries
– often more alcohol is flowing than usual which can intensify abuse.
This year as with last year, both Childline and Women’s Aid expect an exponential rise in phone calls as Coved restrictions heighten tensions even more. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1, NIV).
For the last several years I have chosen not to take part in this largely pagan season. Some may think me mean in not sending Christmas cards or spending staggering amounts of money on food, alcohol and presents. But that is my choice and I am content with that choice.
Jesus is Everything
I am happy to reflect on the fact that the birth of Christ and His subsequent life, ministry, death and resurrection have given me freedom. I am no longer a slave to fashion, food fads (can you get a vegan turkey I wonder?), designer clothing and perfume and manipulation by the media into making me feel guilty for not buying tons of food and junk ‘gifts’.
Sadly, there are an awful lot of people who do not realise that they have been trapped and manipulated, largely by the media and advertisers on behalf of the retail sector, into this undesirable belief system that suggests it is necessary to enter Santa’s Grotto of awfulness and trash and fake love and make believe unhappiness.
Please pray for those in your community who may be experiencing domestic violence; perhaps God will even open a door for you to support these important support services for those in precarious and dangerous relationships.
If you want to please God – then find out how to follow Jesus and live as God intends. It will be the best Christmas present you ever give yourself.