WINTER BUT NEVER CHRISTMAS
Last week we did our annual Christmas tree trip. It's a tradition that on Jake, my son’s birthday, for him, me and his sister Beth, to buy a tree from Cannock Chase. We have memories of hot chocolate, turkey baps, donuts, carols and snow on snow.
How buying a Christmas tree should be – a snowy 2010 at Cannock ChaseThis year Jake drove us. As we went across the Chase in the dark and drizzle, he said that it didn't seem as welcoming as usual. In fact, the forest felt ominous and scary. I said that it was because the whole country feels ominous and scary, and we as a family were feeling sad and downbeat because of a shocking bereavement a few days earlier. We then arrived at the Christmas Tree place; or thought we had. There were no lights, no sound of carols and jingles. We couldn’t even see the signs. We took the wrong entrance. Eventually we discovered the usually magical place but there were only a few stark floodlights, some forlorn cars in the car park, a meagre scattering of trees. No Grotto. No festooned fairy lights. No open wooden huts dispensing steaming hot chocolate and mulled wine. It was Evil-ruled-Narnia – where it is always winter and never Christmas. We hastily made our way through the mud, grabbed the first tree we could find, paid the massive fee and realised the three of us had come in a Mini. It’s an old mini but fun because it’s a convertible. Down came the roof. In went the tree - and us - and off we went back home through the freezing driving rain, desperate for home, a cup of tea and a cheap shop-bought mince pie.
It struck me that we are at the mercy of either circumstances around us, or the state of our own souls. Influence within and influences without usually dictate our mood and the state of our spirits. As we sit in Tier 3 (or 2 if you are lucky, or 1 if, years ago, you chose a great place to live), we are anticipating a few days of social freedom. And as we do this, anxiety rises that things outside our control may mean that we have to isolate just as everyone else is being together. I know friends who are now treading extra carefully in order to stay safe for those few Christmas days. And the tiredness we feel in our souls over a year of such difficulty, weighs us down, chains us up and, along with the threat of an infection hijack, puts us in a place where our view of our lives is tinged with disappointment and negativity.
This is how things are. We are human and influenced in these ways. We can mitigate them by retreating away from everyone and everything, or by suppressing our feelings to grin and bear it, but these things are mechanisms of the old human flesh rather than pathways into freedom. After our Christmas tree trip – both my children said it was the worst one they had ever had – I thought about how I might be more aware of both the threats from outside of me and the threats from my own feelings. And I thought about one of the amazing secrets of Christian faith. There is a peace, which is “not of this world” that addresses, spiritually, the issues that scare and depress us. Jesus says in John 14:
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
Of course we engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, worship – but these are not man made systems to makes us calmer. They are ways of softening our hearts and minds so we can receive something that is a gift from outside of ourselves, which heals and restores our troubled souls. Jesus lived fully in the world, confronted by all kinds of bad circumstances. The Christmas story is all about threat and pressure. He was also affected by death, conflict, disappointment and being let down. His soul was troubled at times. But he has an amazing solution, which he then offers to us. This is the free gift of eternal life – where there is no such external or internal trouble – and the Holy Spirit brings this reality to us now. It is not a shot of spiritual morphine, but it is an actual experience of God’s love and power that releases us from the anxiety of circumstance and the restlessness of the soul. This is the good news of the Kingdom. And I know that I need it here and now. And so do many others in these difficult, dark, winter-but-not-Christmas days.
I receive the Holy Spirit so that I am not entangled by feelings and threats. I receive his power to strengthen me and give me gladness and joy. I receive his peace so that even if I cannot mix with others this Christmas, if my plans are once again thwarted, then I am not pushed over the edge but I remain safe in the loving arms of my heavenly Father.
The apostle Paul picks up the Christmas theme of light in the darkness in 2 Corinthians:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
May you deeply know Jesus speaking to you this week: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
Martin J Young
How buying a Christmas tree should be – a snowy 2010 at Cannock Chase.