All I want for Christmas is …

The Church of England has advised us to stick to cash this Christmas in order to deal with the so-called credit crunch. Without ranting on again about the greedy money merchants who largely got us into the mess, it’s worth remembering that we’re all susceptible to seductive advertising, and tempted to spend more than we can afford. At least I am. If I stick to cash, I can’t spend what I haven’t got. And we don’t need to buy each other expensive things. Last month, I asked you what you really, really want, and suggested that our wanting new things, or a new job, or a new relationship might be pointing to more fundamental needs: a search for a spiritual home, coping with disappointments and lost opportunities, or the need to accept yourself—just as you are. Maybe that’s the best Christmas gift you can give yourself: to accept yourself for what you are, warts and all. And maybe that’s the best Christmas gift you can give someone else: to accept them for what they are, warts and all. We are all human.

Being human is what the Christmas story is all about. At Christmas, divinity meets humanity. Heaven meets earth. Drop down, ye heavens, from above. The divine enters fully into every aspect of human life. Think of the mess of the birth: Mary, Jesus, baby, blood, umbilical cord, placenta. No sterile wipes, gas- and-air, midwives. If the mess of being human is good enough for the Holy Family, it’s good enough for holy you and holy me. We have no need to be ashamed of being human. We have no need to feel ashamed of our human urges, human emotions, human despair or human joy—all this is part of the divinity of living human life to the full. Our job is to channel our human urges and emotions, our despair and joy, into ways that increase the sum total of delight in the world for ourselves and for others. Because we’re human, we make mistakes, but there’s another part of the Christian story that deals with that. At this time of year we celebrate being human. As St Irenaeus said, God became what we are, in order that we may become what he himself is. … The glory of God is a living person and human lived to the full is the vision of God. The Christmas Gospel tells us that we all have the power to become sons and daughters of God. Relax into being yourself. Get rid of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ (too much butter leads to hardening of the arteries, and too many ‘oughts’ leads to hardening of the ‘oughteries’), and be yourself, bringing as much delight as you can into the world.

For me, it is the joy of celebrating human-ness that powers worship: human creativity leading to good sounds, good sights, lovely smells and ordered liturgy and ritual, all directed at something bigger than I can comprehend. Ordered rituals say something that words and thoughts are unable to reach. If you were brought up, as many of us were, to think that church is about obeying rules for no good reason, then I’m sorry. Do you remember playing with model cars in your sandpit, or whatever the equivalent is for girls? Well, the church’s rituals are, amongst other things, about liturgical play in a divine sandpit. Maybe all this is one reason why churches are full for Carol Services and Midnight masses.

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