Midnight Mass - Christmas 2015

In 1647 Oliver Cromwell cancelled Christmas –there were to be no festivities to celebrate the Nativity of Christ, no feasting or parties, no fun and games, no days off work– the English were outraged– there were pro Christmas riots and dozens of  so called ‘Christmas martyrs were jailed.

More recently some public buildings and company offices have banned not only nativity scenes but Christmas trees and decorations, not because of any objection to the excesses of the winter festival such as prompted Cromwell and the Puritans, yes they were binge drinking and eating one mince pie too many even then—no banned  in the name of some kind of political correctness that doesn’t want to cause offence to anyone  because they don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s not part of their religious belief or culture.

This is taken to extremes not only in grown up places but an increasing number of infant schools where the traditional nativity play is no longer performed. Of course the National Secular Society is overjoyed by this prevailing trend –to take the Christ out of Christmas is just what our postmodern secular society needs—and here anti –Christian feeling joins forces with political correctness; after all it seems that its ok to celebrate Diwali and Chinese New Year in our schools and even nurseries  but sing a Christmas  carol or put up a crib , wish someone a Merry   Christmas to someone of another faith or no faith and they could take offence. Incidentally fewer and fewer Christmas cards actually mention Christmas– Seasons Greetings or Winter Wishes is deemed more politically appropriate.

Of course the shops and stores, both on line and on the High Street, don’t care what we call it as long as everyone joins in the orgy of seasonal consumption– let’s forget the Christmas bit and just let everyone get on with their shopping even if it means queuing 5 hours at Bluewater to actually get out of the car park!

 Despite what the politically correct tell you, most of our neighbours in a multi-cultural town like Aldershot, or indeed any town or city, are more than happy to celebrate Christmas and acknowledge its significance for the Christian community—no bother, rather as one journalist recently put his or her finger on the spot, ‘ it is the self– loathing, guilt ridden, liberal elite, driven by their anti– Christian bigotry and ruthless determination to destroy their own heritage and replace it with ’the other’,  something else they are unable to tell us. How deep this anti-Christian feeling runs is difficult to gage, however the decision only a few weeks ago, by the advertising chain that is responsible for the adverts shown in cinemas, to ban a one minute film about praying the Lord’s Prayer makes one wonder —a decision justified by their policy not to show religious or political advertising and that it could offend people of differing faiths.  In one sense I suppose I wouldn’t want my night out to watch the new Star Wars film, ‘The Force awakens’ spoilt by having to see a prayer advert beforehand, it’s enough to put one off one’s popcorn being urged to think about God as one settles down to watch a Fantasy space adventure, may be the advert is just fantasy too, people are easily confused!  Any advertising can be annoying– I haven’t been to the cinema for about a 100 years so I don’t know what the other adverts are like but I do know how annoying they are on TV! Of course the Church of England’s response was ‘to be bewildered’ by this decision, quite frankly I was initially appalled, first by the waste of money making it, but also because the advert, rather than seeking to offend anyone was meant to be a subtle reminder that we are about to celebrate the most important of Christian  festivals in a country that calls itself ‘a Christian nation’!


Although the National Secular Society was well pleased with the decision, Stephen Fry, who is quite a vocal member of the British Humanist Association, tweeted that banning the advert was ‘bizarre, unfair and misguided’ and the director of ‘Liberty’ said this was the ‘action of the thought police’! However indignant people may or may not feel, as a society perhaps we need to be a bit clearer how far religious and social freedoms extend, certainly the same rules should apply to everyone. Countries like France have firm rules about such matters keeping religion out of the public space,  the Church of England would probably come off worse, the Archbishop of Canterbury may speak of the ‘chilling effect’  DCM’s decision will have on free speech, but surely there is here something here about everyone’s  freedom, including personal choice, it is the English way  not to force our religious faith on our neighbours, we prefer to show a polite tolerance towards any creed, as long as it does not threaten  our way of life, we are a multi-cultural, multi– ethnic society now everyone should be free to worship as they want and to wear what they want, whether that be a crucifix or hijab!  That spirit of tolerance and good sense probably indicates that we don’t want our religious faith or anyone else’s for that matter, thrust down our throats in places such as theatres or cinemas or indeed shopping malls. Our country’s law, parliament, the monarchy, our literature, art and architecture may have all been inspired by Christian values but  the Church of England doesn’t need to become pushy or possessive, but neither should we be afraid to stand up for what we believe in and be ready to defend our religion’s place in the public space.


Anyway its Christmas, I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man and so let’s just thank God or anyone else our neighbours want to thank, that at the moment we still live in a country where we can  all happily celebrate Christmas together - long live school nativity plays, carol singing, Santa Claus, Christmas stockings, turkeys and mince pies, crackers and Christmas trees we may become almost overwhelmed by Christmas’s rampant consumerism but away from supermarket shelves and Internet stores there is still the magic and the mystery— for the children the magic isn’t one that begins and ends in the shopping mall, however enticing it all appears to those sparkling little eyes, it should begin in the home, though in adult eyes some of the decorations and trimmings may seem a bit tacky but in children’s eyes it’s something else, remember when you were children and how it all looked to you, that Christmas tree with those easily breakable baubles and Chinese lanterns, the chocolate   ornaments you weren’t  allowed to have until Christmas day along with the crackers that used to go on the tree too, and lights ( all dozen of them)  that never  seemed to work, and all those bits of tinsel to add some extra  sparkle, and waking up on Christmas morning, eagerly looking in our stocking or pillow case to see what Santa had brought, gifts a lot more modest by today’s standards, especially in  homes like the one  I grew up in - but that never seemed to matter. I am lucky because I now have young grandchildren to remind this old scrooge of that same magic, Christmas seen through the eyes of child, before the spell is broken by the harsher realities of life in the world of grownups! Earlier this evening the church  was  buzzing, full of families, the children bursting with excitement as they edged closer and closer to the crib as we  told the story of the first Christmas  together. Priceless -No People may not fill the church Sunday by Sunday, but they still want to believe in Christmas,  and as well as the magic and the sparkle, and the commercialism and hype too, there is that never changing mystery, a  mystery many may not yet fully understand,  no more do we for that matter– a mystery    that has drawn us here tonight, the mystery of the Incarnation—The word was made flesh and dwelt among us, God’s own Son, Jesus, born into the world in

human flesh to show us how great God’s love is for us and all humankind; we come to adore the Christ Child, a child like no other and yet as we look upon him, a child like any other, nestled in his crib, gently sleeping; a reminder of the innocence we have lost and the hope of a better world for our children and children’s children, a  world in which peace and justice will flourish and Jesus will truly be Lord.