The Passion of the Christmas

The Passion of the Christmas

Keen naval historians have a special affection for September 29th. 

Why?

Because on that day in 1758 Horatio Nelson was born.

So, they see September 29th as a day for celebration. But that celebration is not simply because of his birth on that day. If he had spent his life as a deckhand or gunner, it’s unlikely he would be remembered.

No, the celebration embraces all that he achieved in his life. Radical new tactics. Brilliant leadership. Charisma and courage. Self-sacrifice: an eye and an arm. Stunning triumphs at Copenhagen and the Nile. All capped by a country-saving victory at Trafalgar along with the ultimate sacrifice: losing his life in the service of his country.

On December 25th we celebrate the birth of Christ: the day God entered his created world in the shape of a baby. That is indeed cause for celebrations. But it’s not the whole cause.

Because Christmas Day is not the whole story. It’s just the opening chapter. Our celebrations can only be complete if they embrace what that baby went on to do in his life, why he did it and what it means for us.

A birth in humble, even marginalised circumstances. Early boyhood as a refugee. A roller-coaster 3-year ministry featuring radical new teaching, mind-blowing miracles, compelling stories and the careful nurturing and role-modelling of his closest followers. Culminating in the ultimate self-sacrifice. Willingly following a path from adulation and superstardom to betrayal, torture and execution in the course of a single week. Followed by a miraculous, hope-inspiring and life-instilling resurrection. A triumph of light and life over darkness and death that gives the promise of eternal hope to us all.

As the song says: ‘Man shall live forever more because of Christmas Day’.

That’s why we celebrate Christmas. 

Jesus is who, what and why we celebrate.

There is nothing wrong in celebrating Christmas with all the trimmings: presents, tree, Santa, Christmas lunch, Muppets Christmas Carol. As long as we continue to remember exactly who, what and why it is that we are celebrating. But the shocking fact is that more than 50% of people say that the birth of Jesus is ‘irrelevant’ to their Christmas.

The sadness is that for millions of people the nativity has become just another ingredient in all the trimmings of the secular Xmas story.  The real story, the full story, begins with a manger and a birth, and ends with the cross and a resurrection. Without the cradle, there can be no cross.

Yet recent research reveals that 40% of people do not even realise that Jesus was a real person who actually lived. People need to be helped to put the whole story together by connecting the cute and cuddly baby Jesus born at Christmas with the scourged and bloodied Christ crucified and resurrected at Easter. 

The two festivals need to be reconnected in the public consciousness, with Jesus Christ central to both. 

For without Christmas there can be no Easter; and without Easter there is no point in Christmas: we need to protect and project their Christian foundations.

Which is why this poster, ‘The Passion of the Christmas’, features a stark, even shocking, image of the scourged Christ carrying not a cross but a Christmas tree, with the simple message:

‘Remember why’.
Remember who, what and why we are celebrating this and every Christmas.

A Prayer

Lord, far too many people are far too happy to see Jesus as just a cuddly baby in a manger; and far too comfortable in leaving him there.

This Christmas, help us to talk with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about the vital connection between Christmas and Easter and the huge message of hope that Jesus Christ brings to the world.

 

A Christmas Story: The CEO and the £100 jeans

A Christmas Story: The CEO and the £100 jeans

The CEO of a multinational fashion retailer is invited to take part in the TV show Boss Goes Under Cover.  He is a demanding employer, known throughout the industry for his efficiency, keeping down costs and firing anyone who puts a foot out of line.

With a film crew, he travels to the Philippines where many of his company’s clothes are manufactured. He works on the factory floor as a machinist, stitching jeans which retail at more than £100 for less than £1 per hour. After a few days, the camera crew return to the UK but he stays on. He obtains a permanent job in the factory, working 14 hour days. Sometimes by the end of the day he is so tired he struggles to stand, his hands cramped from repetitive strain and his mouth dry from lack of refreshment. Sometimes he gets up from his machine only to be told that there is a large shipment which must go out the next day and everyone must work overtime without pay.

Gradually he picks up the local language and learns the stories of those he works alongside. One friend has five children at home; rather than collapse exhausted on her mattress at the end of a punishing day, she cooks and cleans for her family. Another machinist is bitter and angry; he has tried to start a union, to campaign for better working conditions, but leaving work one evening he was badly beaten and told to back off. He tried the police, but they were not interested, wanting to keep the foreign investors happy. He wants his nephews and nieces to have a chance of an education, but on his wages this will never be possible.

Eventually there comes a day when the former CEO has forgotten that he ever paid £100 for a pair of jeans.  He throws out the pair he arrived in the country wearing, which are now riddled with holes and tears, and scrapes together a few coins to buy a cheap pair from the local market.  He marries a local woman and works hard in the factory, hoping by his good performance to soften the hard heart of the foreman and improve everyone’s lot.

 

  • Why would a CEO take a job as a machinist in a factory?
  • Why would a rich Englishman choose to live in a poor country?
  • Why would God himself choose to be born a human being?
  • If you’d like to meet with Christ this Christmas, we’d love to help.

Talk to someone in confidence about faith, life or getting connected to a local Christian community, please call Premier Lifeline between 9am and midnight on 020 7316 0808.

Or you can send for more information or start an email conversation with our partners the Christian Enquiry Agency by clicking here.

Mrs Scrooge

Mrs Scrooge

Now I'm not proud of myself, but I LOVE Christmas films. The favourites in my household are all adaptations of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'.  I love the zany '80s interpretation called 'Scrooged' starring the magnificent Bill Murray. My husband prefers 'The Muppets' Christmas Carol'.  Don't judge us.  

The story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, like some stories from the Bible, is so well known it's comfortable, familiar and often fails to shock in the way it originally did.  'A Christmas Carol' has been adapted, tamed and set to heart-warming sentimental music.  The original story, by Charles Dickens, is beautiful and beautifully written.  Read it for yourself - it's a very short novel.

One of the most spine-chilling scenes comes when Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, who tells Scrooge of the great chain he carries in death, forged by his actions during his mortal life.  Marley explains that he should have cared for his fellow men, but he did not, and now it is too late.  Scrooge is troubled by Marley's words, and protests: 

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  "Mankind was my business." 

Later, as he watches Marley's ghost leave, Scrooge becomes aware of a strange sound and looks out of the window:

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.  Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free.  Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives.  He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step.  The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Someone once pointed out to me the parallel between this scene and the story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16.  In this story told by Jesus, the rich man fails to care for poor Lazarus, who sits destitute at his gate.  Then the rich man dies and goes to his punishment in the underworld; he regrets his hard-heartedness, but finds that it is too late.  In 'A Christmas Carol' Dickens reflects Jesus' teaching on the importance of practical care for the poor and those in need and suggests, as Jesus seemed to, that there is a terrible cost for those who ignore it.  Dickens' interpretation of the nature of this punishment is fascinating; spirits doomed to walk the earth, witnessing human misery but unable to do anything to stop it.

As we all know, by the end of the book/film, Scrooge is a reformed character, who decides to look after his clerk, Bob Cratchit, properly and to give money to help the poor.  He starts to visit his nephew and to seek friendships with others, where before he had kept himself entirely to himself.  This is all highly commendable, but I am always left a little uneasy by the sugary sweet ending of modern adaptations. The message seems to be that we just need to be nice to each other and give money to the poor, both of which seem to be easy things to do, and most of us are probably left thinking that we do these things anyway.  But is this the costly care for others which Jesus taught about with such fierce passion?  Even though I love 'Scrooged', the 'Scrooge' character, Frank Cross, is a hilariously horrible person and I compare pretty favourably with him.  I have never instructed anyone to try stapling tiny reindeer horns to a mouse, for example.

I suspect that the transformation Christ wants to bring about in me, in my attitude towards others, in my giving of my time and money, might just hurt a bit more.


By Emma Nash who blogs over on Coffee Theology

Tales from a former Christmas orphan

Tales from a former Christmas orphan

This Christmas will be my fifth away from family. The good news is, that it does get easier. My expectations have decreased. I’m thankful for a gift-wrapped, patterned tea-towel, and I’ve become the first enthusiastic volunteer to do the dishes – demonstrating my slightly desperate gratitude for whichever family has invited the overseas ‘orphan’ into their home.

That first Christmas invite when I moved overseas came early in April. I felt so relieved to know that I had plans for the sacred day; that I was to be included. I don’t know if I was producing vibes of Christmas-orphan panic as early as Easter, but let’s just say that the friend who invited me wasn’t usually the planning type. While I haven’t since fixed Christmas plans quite so many months ahead, that security of knowing I’ll be included and not alone is one of relief each year. Perhaps there’s a reason so many people talk about an ‘orphan’s Christmas’.

We can be absolutely content living away from our family – it may be the other side of the world, or the other side of the country – but on this one day, 25 December, a feeling of being orphaned can flare up in us. We don’t feel we belong in our new setting. We don’t expect the shower of gifts that others receive. We learn a new Christmas day ritual and politely do what our hosts require of us. There is usually still loads of fun involved, but it’s not the same as being around people who have known you your whole life. It’s on this day that we can feel displaced, even a burden.

In the past, it hasn’t felt like it was my responsibility to invite a friend or acquaintance for Christmas. The lead-up to Christmas was too hectic, and the Christmas period too sacred to have anyone else involved other than family. One year, I even withheld a boyfriend from overseas a Christmas invite – he was welcome to come stay with my family any other time, just not at Christmas. What I now know is how much that time of being included means to people away from home.

So this Christmas, I’m going to stop and think about who needs an invite; who needs to be included. It doesn’t always have to mean an invitation to Christmas lunch, or a sofa companion for re-runs of the Queen’s speech or the Bond movie on TV. It may mean car-pooling to the Christmas Eve service so that everyone’s included, giving an unexpected gift, or even just asking someone if they have plans over the Christmas season. Knowing what I know now, I’m definitely avoiding the pity party – no one likes to feel they are a charity case – but I want to just show some consideration for the people around me this year.

Christmas is a time to recognise the reincarnation of our Father; therefore, the themes of Christmas and the lead-up to it of hope, joy, peace, love and thankfulness embody who we are as His sons and daughters. This is a time where home, family, community and being included and loved totally embody the kingdom of heaven on earth; the kingdom that was brought to earth by a birth on that day at Christmas.

It’s not about the exact historical date, it’s what it represents; it’s what the birth brought. It isn’t just about salvation, but about family, relationship, community and the embrace of the Father in that He sent His son to earth.

God didn’t create an orphanage at Christmas – or orphans for the rest of the year. He created us to be in family with Him and to be included. So who will you invite to be part of your community this Christmas?

This article originally appeared on ThreadsUK.com

Christmas with Christ

Christmas with Christ

Most of my family aren’t church-going, so Christian traditions have never featured heavily in our family celebrations. When I was exploring Christianity as a teenager, I set Christmas that year as a sort of deadline for God. When it came to that deadline, I was so excited about starting the next stage of my life that I remember coming home from the Christmas Eve party and praying the words of a prayer at the back of a “Why Jesus?” booklet. I knew that I wanted God to be part of my life. So Christmas is significant in terms of my own faith.

I knew the nativity story growing up – I featured in plays – and a musical – about it through school, but it was just a story at that point. I don’t think I really realised that some people thought it had any particular significance. Now though, I find it difficult to express what it means compared to what it meant to me before. It’s quite difficult to shift focus and explain how something can suddenly mean more than it did, but it just does.

I think many people, regardless of their beliefs, try and reconnect with faith at Christmas. Many people who were brought up going to church want to go back at Christmas, because they love the traditions. They like the familiarity of liturgy, carols and candles – because it’s part of what they’ve always done at Christmas. I wonder how often people ask themselves why they do it? Because their parents always did? Because it’s tradition? Because, no matter how chaotic and uncertain the world can seem, you can rely on the Church to do things a certain way at Christmas this year, just as they did last year and all the years before?

For me, I wasn’t familiar with church services, so didn’t connect a lot of the Advent traditions to each other or Christianity. A wreath was part of the Christmas decorations for the front door. The Advent calendar was counting down to Christmas Day, not about a separate season in its own right. We would have Christmas music – both carols and other songs, choral carol-singing in the background on Christmas morning, stuff like that. I remember people carol singing in the streets or outside supermarkets, collecting money for charity. So carols were part of a secular Christmas for me, part of the background noise. Because of that, I’ve not always found it easy to sing carols as a form of worship since I became a Christian. I still hear the alternative lyrics that I’d giggle over as a child.

In many ways, the most unfamiliar bits of Advent have proved the most useful for me as a Christian. I’d never been to a Midnight Mass service until a few years ago and I loved it. I didn’t know until I got there that it’s traditional to turn all the lights off and then light a single candle, symbolising Jesus, who the Bible calls the Light of the World, being born. Then to have the light passed from person to person until everyone in the church is holding a lit candle… it takes time, you have to pause to think about what you’re doing, you have to focus on getting your candle lit and not accidentally setting fire to anything. I find that incredibly powerful and emotional.

This year, I’m trying to make more of Advent for myself. Because the Christian celebrations are not a big part of our family Christmas, I wanted to use Advent as a time for me to reflect more on the season and also to prepare for Christmas. It’s pretty common to see Lent as a time of preparation and reflection ahead of Easter, but Advent is much the same thing for Christmas.

I’ve had an Advent candle for the last couple of years so that is how I’m choosing to celebrate Advent this year – recognising Advent as a season, not just an easy way to keep track of the number of days left to do my Christmas shopping or an excuse for a chocolate at breakfast every day. Mostly, for me, I’ve started to recognise Advent as the starting point for the events that would ultimately lead to the Easter story. Advent became more meaningful to me when I saw that link. They weren’t just two separate stories; they were two chapters in a single story. It finally clicked with me: that’s why it matters. That’s why this baby is significant.

This article originally appeared on ThreadsUK.com

Neonatal Christmas

Neonatal Christmas

I love the Christmas season. I love having to wrap up warm - although evidently not this year, I love Christmas carols, mince pies, good food and thinking about gifts I can make or buy people. I love a good Christmas jumper and, of course, family time. But no matter how good all those things are, for me, as a follower of Jesus, I love Christmas because I'm reminded of God’s incredible gift to me in sending Jesus.

I’m a junior doctor working with children, from premature babies to teenagers. I’m a paediatric registrar working in a busy general hospital in the south west, and since I left medical school I’ve had to work three Christmases. 

Last Christmas I woke up - home alone! - put on my red work dress in an attempt to be festive and set off for work. When I got there, it was manic. Newborn babies have no idea it's Christmas, they are just chilling out in their little incubators with their token stockings hanging over the end, and unborn babies definitely don't think twice about whether Christmas Day is a good day to be born, so it was all hands on deck from the word go. 

Around 15 minutes into my shift I was called to an emergency on the delivery suite. I ran down the corridor, put on my surgical blues and surgical hat and joined the obstetric team who were preparing for an emergency C-section. I went over to the mum and dad and introduced myself as the baby doctor and made my way to my corner by the baby resuscitaire. I turned on the overhead heater, made sure the equipment was all working and then waited.

A few minutes later one of the midwives handed me a little baby boy. He wasn't breathing so I dried him down, placed a mask over his mouth and nose and gave him five breaths. After what felt like a lifetime, but was actually 30 seconds or so, an almighty scream erupted form his little lungs and then his legs and arms started wriggling and he opened his eyes. I spent a few minutes with him alone as the rest of the team took care of his mum, before I had the most amazing privilege of handing him over to his parents for the first time – I love that part of my job! 

I clearly remember that as I was standing with him on the resuscitaire, drying this little one down, wrapping him up and popping the little blue knitted hat on his head, thinking: "You're absolutely amazing, so tiny, so naked and so vulnerable." It was then as if God switched a light on in my head and heart as I looked down at this little new baby, and thought: "Jesus, you chose to come like this. God you chose to come as a baby, that's totally outrageous! Why?"

Just like that little boy born last Christmas Day, Jesus, my creator King and the one that John tells us at the start of his gospel is God, the one "through whom all things were made and for whom everything was made", was born into history small and naked with tiny little hands and feet and his eyes blinking as they opened for the first time.

Jesus, his birth and his life, wasn't just a gift for one family in Bethlehem, but a gift from God to be experienced and enjoyed by whoever will trust and believe in Him. His birth points me forward, for like all babies he grew up: he was born in a wooden box so that he would grow into a man and die on a wooden cross and rise from the grave to save me from the consequences my rebellion and rejection of God. He came to die so that through his death I could be forgiven and the relationship with God, our loving creator, might be restored, that we might truly live and enjoy life with him both now and life after death.

And that's what I love most about Christmas: that I'm reminded of the amazing love God has for this world and that His son was born to rescue me.

Home for Good this Christmas

Home for Good this Christmas

Christmas has an inevitability about it. Whether it's comforting, warming and safe, an awkward family negotiation, walking on eggshells, or just plain hard work with a family to feed, others to worry about and sacrifice yourself for, it always rolls around.

Christmas was always the same until I turned 26. Before then, although the people might have changed,  going first from a happy nuclear family and grandparents, through a divorce and bereavement to just me, Mum and grandma left, and later just me and my mum, for years it was the same.  

Then at 26, after my mother died, I spent Christmas with my dad for the first time since the divorce. After that came a flurry of firsts: first in America with my half-brother, first married, first with a baby...

But this year, aged 31, something is a bit more unusual.  

This year I'll be having Christmas with two foster children, aged seven and five, who are spending their first Christmas away from their mum. Two of the 69,000 children in the UK who are in care, thousands of whom are waiting to be adopted or for the certainty of ‘permanence’ - which could be long-term foster care with the same family, or a special guardian to come forward so they know where they belong, at least until they are 21.  These children don’t know where they will have their next Christmas.

Crucially though, it's a beacon of normality amongst the uncertainty that surrounds them and many other ‘looked after children’.  No matter what they've experienced on 25th December at home, they've been immersed in so much of the atmosphere of Christmas, through adverts, singing carols at school and seeing lights in the street to know what Christmas is. And that can be comforting.

While our daughter is too young to appreciate Christmas, these two kids still believe in its ‘magic’. Lists are written to Santa and one expects the entirety of the Argos catalogue to come shooting down the chimney - quite exactly how they think it will fit in the small log-burner at the bottom is still unanswered. Christmas means excitement for them; it's a time that is guaranteed to be fun. The anticipation of presents, Santa and that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes Christmas, Christmas.

Whatever comes next for them, and wherever they are this time next year, the run up to Christmas for these two is exciting as they anticipate something they know is sure to happen in a timescale they can get their heads round. And for them that is such a precious commodity! Unlike so many things, Christmas will come and there will be presents under the tree for them that say you have a place here, you're valuable and loved here, now, whatever comes in the future.

But as a Christian, Christmas is the yearly anticipation of something that will, and indeed has already happened. God coming to earth to live among us happened and it culminated in Him sacrificing himself for us so that we'd have a home, we’d be ‘adopted’ into a family where we could be truly fulfilled. A family where hope isn't hoping against hope, but where hope is having a future and being known.

So my prayer this Christmas is that looked after children across the UK and those in my own home will know they have a hope and future, a home that will be theirs for good. It might not come this Christmas but I pray it will by next year.

 

James works for Home for Good, a fostering and adoption charity with a mission to find a home for every child in the UK that needs one. Home for Good believe that because of the power of our own ‘adoption’ into God's family, Christians should be the most motivated to provide loving and caring homes for the thousands of ‘looked after children’ in the UK who need foster placements or adoptive parents.

Our First Christmas

Our First Christmas

My husband Sam and I have been planting a church in London since August and our main demographic is university students, because we’re based in Roehampton. We’re supported by church-planting network Co-Mission’s Antioch Plan, however in this grassroots stage, our ‘plant’ is really just Sam and I!

Even though I was a student only three years ago myself, I’d kind of forgotten the ‘sleep all day, play all night’ mind-set that students often have! It’s been a change of gear, because you need to be super-flexible: someone could rock up to a meeting an hour late, or miss it altogether, or be hesitant to leave our house before midnight! It’s been good for us to learn to be adaptable for the sake of loving others, rather than keeping to my plan!

We both work part-time, and the rest of our time is filled with reading the Bible with students, helping equip the Roehampton Christian Union in their work, and enjoying hanging out in our home - often with students and always with food!

Currently, our ‘church’ looks like us proactively meeting students, doing a weekly questionnaire on campus (aiming to discover and discuss students’ worldviews), and inviting people to dinner and a discussion on Tuesday evenings called Big Life Questions. We’ve had around 15 students from all sorts of backgrounds come along sporadically, and it’s been exciting so far! Next term we’re planning on transforming this into a Bible study for a ‘core’ group, and also starting up a midday course.

Christmas this year, our first in our little church plant, was actually on the 8th December, as we have to hold it within term-time. We hosted a Christmas gathering instead of our usual Big Life Questions evening. All the classics: minced pies, mulled wine and Bublé in the background. We had no idea how many to expect, but we ended up with five of us. We had a lovely festive evening, although instead of our planned talk on Christmas, we just spent lots of time chatting and playing Articulate!

In these early stages, with no formalised service, Advent traditions aren’t really a feature of our church. Our prime desire is to build relationships with people, meeting them where they’re at and introducing them to the person of Jesus. But where we can, we’ll invite people to our supporting church’s carol service.

Sam and I both come from a Christmas culture where carol services, ad hoc carol singing in the local area, Christmas parties and an informal family friendly Christmas day service are the norm. We both love Christmassy music and the opportunity Christmas is for everyone and anyone to get stuck in, enjoy the festive spirit and hear the message of Christmas.

It’s a real privilege to reflect that we really have gone from zero to something! We had no idea what to expect at the start of this year, but God’s brought people into our path and helped build relationships. Our big prayer for 2016 is for a core group to form, as we’re still really small, and for people to get to know Jesus. In this Advent season, the major learning curve for us has to be learning to depend on God: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

Project Antifreeze: helping the homeless this Christmas

Project Antifreeze: helping the homeless this Christmas

As the countdown to Christmas begins in Brighton and Hove, the homeless services in the city will be preparing to serve those who find themselves spending the festive period on the street.

I’m currently interning at Off the Fence, a Christian charity that reaches out to the local community and in particular, marginalised individuals. One of our main projects is Project Antifreeze, a day centre providing practical, emotional and spiritual support for the homeless.

On a 'typical' day, we begin by praying as a team before opening the doors to the centre, where we will see up to 60 rough sleepers and insecurely housed people. We are able to offer food, such as sandwiches, biscuits and fruit, all of which is provided by Fair Share.

We also offer hot drinks, clothes and toiletries, which are all donated items, sleeping bags, as well as support with a variety of issues: whether it be researching housing options, offering benefits advice or just offering to listen to someone. 

Having interned for more than six months now and as December gets underway, it’s almost impossible to ignore the sadness of the situations that many find themselves in, especially at a time of year that is traditionally family-orientated and happy. But there are a number of things that will be taking place that will ensure that the homeless community are not forgotten or excluded.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be decorating the day centre with a Christmas tree and wrapping gifts for the clients to open. It’s simple things like this that we hope will be a special treat for the clients.

In addition to the activity at the day centre, staff and generous volunteers will also be going out onto the streets of Brighton and Hove three nights a week to give out essential clothing, Bibles (if desired), a hot drink, some sandwiches and biscuits.

This is a critical part of our work as it gives us the opportunity to see those who may not access services, but it also shows the love of Jesus in action.

Sometimes this can be a bit of a daunting task as some areas of the city, such as the seafront and car parks, where people are known to be sleeping, aren’t very well lit, or aren’t lit at all. There is also the occasional challenge with the weather, especially as Christmas approaches, with coastal wind and rain being quite difficult to ignore.

However, we put our faith in God to protect us, and we will always go out in teams of at least two people.

In addition to the practical support that this provides, we also aim to provide spiritual support through offering to pray with the clients, which the majority will happily accept. Usually these prayers are simple prayers asking for protection and safety while they face the vulnerability of being out on the street. 

So, if you are wondering what or who you can be praying for this festive period, please pray that the generous donations will continue to be received. Please also keep in your mind and prayers those who will be having a cold and lonely Christmas out on the street, and those who are going to be helping them.

By Lizzie Walker

Swiss Christmas

Swiss Christmas

I grew up in Switzerland, in the Emmental – where the cheese comes from. It’s quite high up, so there was a lot of snow at Christmas time. I remember walking to school – wading, in fact – through snow up to my chest. It was really magical. I’d walk to school past a tiny church and past the forest, which was beautiful.

We would always celebrate Christmas with my Mum’s family. They’re very musical. My grandma always wanted to sing, so we would sit in a big circle and all sing together. There’d be three guitars and a flute, and we would sing these really ancient Swiss-German children’s songs. Songs about baby Jesus and the donkey, or about candles. They aren’t very well-known songs, they’re really old, and not really ‘serious’ carols. Some of the songs I literally haven’t heard anywhere else. A lot of the songs use really old Swiss-German words as well, which we could barely understand.

Now, I look back on that time with nostalgia, because family dynamics change as people get older. My grandma died last year too, and she was really the heart of the family, so it definitely feels different without her. The special sense of community, that will always be there; but it’s different now.

In Swiss-German culture, we celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on 6 December. For us, Santa Claus comes on that day, not on Christmas Day. So children put their wellies out by the door the night before and then in the morning, they would wake up to find them full of nuts and chocolates, and then you eat Grittibänzen. Grittibänzen are these little men made out of sweet, braided Swiss bread. People go wild with them: they make them with little scarves and decorations.

We would always have the Christmas wreath with the four Advent candles in church; we would light one candle each Sunday before Christmas. We would usually have a Christmas play and a choir. As I grew up in a Christian family, someone would always read through the whole Christmas story on Christmas Day, so that we were always reminded of why we were celebrating.

With every year, I feel like I struggle more and more with how people go wild with buying so much stuff – with how monetised Christmas is. This year, I really want to go deeper into what Christmas really means. In the Coptic tradition, for example, their understanding of salvation starts with the incarnation. We often focus, in the West, on just the cross – which is obviously hugely important – but the Coptic tradition really celebrates Christ coming among us, and the incarnation as part of the salvation message.

I’ve been listening to sermons by the Coptic monk and missionary Atef Meshreky about the kingdom of God. One of the things that it’s got me thinking about is the fact that we often think of Christmas as being this fluffy, nice thing, but actually the first Christmas is so political – theJews were waiting for salvation to come through a King, but then He’s born in a stable – it’s so dramatic and sometimes we forget that. It must have been such a lonely and scandalous time as. I wonder what Mary and Joseph would have thought if they’d known how their story is viewed now? Coptic Christians understand there being a special grace on particular days: Christmas Day is about new life and new hope.

This post first appeared on threadsuk.com.

 

#MyChristmas - Giving presents to prostitutes in Bangkok

#MyChristmas - Giving presents to prostitutes in Bangkok

Sparkling Christmas lights, tinsel, elaborately decorated Christmas trees, neon lights, Christmas carols playing loudly and men and women wearing Christmas hats fill the air with laughter.

This could be a scene from any country at Christmas time, but add beer and go-go bars competing to entice their international customers to the traditional Christmas scene, and this is what the sex industry looks like at Christmas in Bangkok’s red light area. 

The Christmas merriment looks so real on the surface, but underneath the mask tells a different story. 

It's all Christmas wrapping: most people in Thailand have no idea of the true meaning of Christmas. Being a Buddhist country, the only part of Christmas that is celebrated is the partying and present giving.  Christ is left out.

In Bangkok, there are always opportunities to display or share Christ.  At NightLight, an organisation reaching out to women caught in the sex industry, we choose to demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas by showing love to our neighbours.

On the afternoon of 16 December, we will be hosting a Christmas party in our outreach center, located near the red light area. We are inviting women from the streets to come in for food, a safe place to relax, do fun activities and have conversations with those who just want to talk.

During that same week, in the evening, the outreach teams will be distributing 500 - 1000 gift bags to women in prostitution. We will also visit a brothel and sing Christmas carols in the lobby where international women are prostituted. Everyone is given a gift - even the pimps, because God loves them, too.

The response we receive when we give these gifts out is one of great surprise, even tears. We are generally asked over and over: “This is free I don’t have to pay? thank you so much.”

The women currently working at NightLight and the bakery, where they learn life skills and a trade, have so much to give back. They will be going out in teams to visit the sick in various hospitals, a slum community and giving out gifts paid for with money they have donated. They will pray for many and help some lonely, hurting people feel valued. 

There is a Thai song ‘คริสต์มาสเป็นเวลาแห่งความรัก’ (krit-sa-mat bpen wee-laa heng kwaam rak), which translates as 'Christmas is the time for love’. The women at NightLight and the bakery are preforming not just an act of celebrating Christmas, but demonstrating Christ, His love and freedom at Christmas to others. Putting ‘Christ’ back into Christmas.

You can find out more about sharing Jesus with women in the sex trade at NightLight.

#MyChristmas - How a former Muslim learnt the meaning of saying: Merry Christmas!

#MyChristmas - How a former Muslim learnt the meaning of saying: Merry Christmas!

Growing up, my family celebrated a few holidays.  We were never very religious, but celebrated the main Muslim holidays by eating a lot and visiting relatives. The time before the end of the year was special, though, because we got to put up our New Year´s tree. My siblings and I were always excited to get new decorations for our tree and decide which one goes where. Since we didn´t speak English, we had no idea what the "Merry Christmas" writing on those decorations meant. 

Times changed and I found myself wanting to celebrate Christmas with others. I converted to Christianity as a teenager, without my family´s approval. At the time I was living with them, and it was difficult for me to be part of any church activities. I wanted to know more about Christmas and why it was celebrated. At that time, Christmas was just a holiday to me where people got presents and ate a lot of food. This picture of Christmas of course came from medias portrayal of it.

I was in search for the true meaning of Christmas.  When I learned what Christmas was about, that Jesus is at the centre of it, I realised that this 'TV Christmas' was a secular version of real Christmas - just like our Muslims holidays, which were celebrated without any mention of God.  I finally understood why we say: Merry Christmas. Once I understood it, I found it very strange that we were using decorations with those words, even though we considered ourselves Muslim.

After I moved away to go to university I could celebrate Christmas freely.  I was free to go to church services and to be with others who shared my belief. I'm now back in my home country celebrating Christmas this year. Here Christmas is a church family holiday. Many of us are the only ones in our families who believe in Jesus as our saviour, so to celebrate His birth we gather together. As a church we try to include everyone in this celebration. Many of us try to invite our families so they can get to know the saviour of the world and the basis of our belief.

I pray that this Christmas will bring many closer to the one who should be celebrated during this time. I pray that people around the world in these unsettled times will come to know Jesus as their Lord. I pray that we as the body of Christ will do our best where we are to tell people around us about the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Tina

#MyChristmas - Why I celebrated my first Christmas as a teenager

#MyChristmas - Why I celebrated my first Christmas as a teenager

The Christmas season brought a fair amount of confusion for me. I grew up in a Christian home and I went to Christian schools, but it wasn't until my early to mid-teenage years that we kept Christmas.

The denomination of Christianity that I grew up in rejected Christmas and saw it as a pagan festival; it’s not that the church that I grew up in didn't believe in the incarnation, it just didn't believe it was very biblical to celebrate it.

We stuck to the Jewish holidays and festivals with the only crossover into the Christian tradition being the day of Pentecost. As a child I found it all very confusing, I didn't quite understand why I wasn't allowed to keep this Christian holiday if I was supposed to be a Christian. I can remember making a schoolboy error and revealing this scandalous information once - and only once - in primary school when a friend of mine asked me what I got for Christmas. I replied: “Nothing, I don't keep Christmas,” which was met with roars of: “WHAT!” and: “BEN DOESN'T KEEP CHRISTMAS!”

We finally started keeping Christmas when the church I grew up in went through doctrinal changes. We were allowed to celebrate Christmas, but we did not adopt the advent traditions of the Church. My parents finally allowed us to partake in the traditions of putting up a tree and having a celebration on Christmas day, but my favourite and by far the most amusing family tradition was trying to keep the fact that we now kept Christmas a secret from my Dad's parents. The fact that we didn't keep Christmas for so long was something of a sore point between my Dad and his parents, and when we finally started keeping it we weren't quite sure how to tell them - so we didn’t. It may not be a widely excepted tradition, but it was ours.

One of my most meaningful Christmas experiences was during a period of my life when I had stopped going to church. I was in my early 20s and my faith unfortunately had fallen by the wayside, but it became tradition for us to go to midnight communion service at All Souls in London, so I found myself back in church - somewhere I hadn't been for a while. I felt powerfully moved by the service and became very emotional. Looking back I realise it was the Holy Spirit.

I think I definitely view Christmas differently now. When I first started keeping it in my early teens I wanted Christmas in all its tree-decorating, present-fondling, face-stuffing, naff-jumper-wearing ways, because I felt I was deprived of all those traditions when I was a child. Most of all I wanted presents. I dare say I felt cheated out of just over a decade of worth of gifts and I wanted a little recompense. But now as the gift envy has well and truly ended, Christmas has settled into its proper place in my heart: that is, a chance for me to serve my family by cooking them the best feast I can, and most importantly to marvel at the mystery of the incarnation and to celebrate the first coming of the king, my fondest tradition being midnight communion on the eve of Christmas.

 

This post first appeared on Threadsuk.com.