I want to expand a little here on one of the points I made in my article about preparing for Christmas carol service sermons. In that article I warned against trampling on the connection points that might exist with those attending.
I referenced an essay by CS Lewis called Xmas and Christmas which imagines Herodotus describing the traditions of the good people of Niatarb during their Exmas festival. Over the years I’ve heard it read at various carol services. Now, on one level we can laugh a little at ourselves as Lewis describes the habit of exchanging cards:
In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness. But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Xmas_and_Christmas
However, at the same time I suspect there’s just a little bit of classism and cultural snobbery, Lewis’s preference is not just for a religious Christmas but a highbrow one. I mention this because there’s a temptation to talk much about the “real” or “true” meaning of Christmas and to bemoan indulgence in food, presents, parties and fairy stories. This can creep into our Christmas talks and we end up sounding a bit like Scrooge or The Grinch.
The thing is I don’t think we need to indulge in such puritanical suspicions of the festival. Christians may do well to remember that the one we want people to be celebrating at this time of year was accused by his critics of being a “glutton and a drunkard.” (Matthew 11:7). Of course he was neither but at the same time Jesus is seen as the one who enjoys a meal and invites us to join him for the eternal banquet. Jesus is the one who shows up at a wedding and instead of using the moment when the wine runs out to lecture the guests about what the ceremony is really about opts to produce gallons more of the stuff from water so that the party can continue.
We sometimes say that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Our whole faith is meant to revolve around joy and enjoyment. God made us for this. Music and dancing, singing and laughter are all part of the richness of life. Christians more than any should be happy people because we have discovered true happiness.
When in the darkness of winter, our friends and neighbours seek to find joy and happiness, to persist through the bleaker days, lighting up their streets with fairy lights, sending long lost friends greetings cards and showing their loved ones with presents, they are not doing something terrible and wrong. They are expressing a deep, natural and indeed God given yearning for love, family, happiness and enjoyment.
So what if we were to encourage that as a good thing? And what if we were to suggest that this longing, this desire for love and family, happiness and enjoyment can only be found in the good and happy King who came to make peace with us and give us abundant life? What if our parties were the happiest and most fun of all the Christmas and New Year celebrations? I mean they should be because there won’t be the sore heads and bloated stomachs the next morning. But they also can be because we have something greater to celebrate, something more wonderful to enjoy.