Our Christmas message this year is written by the Rev Owain Jones, minister of the United Church of Bute.
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I had an unsettling experience last week. I was in a supermarket on the mainland. Carolyn had gone to look for something, and I was standing staring into space, vaguely aware of the people, the decorations, the Christmas lights…
Suddenly, I was flooded with an overwhelming Christmassy feeling. It took me a second to work out what was causing it. It was the music coming over the tannoy. And this is where I blush! It wasn’t a carol, or something from Handel’s Messiah. It was Wham: “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…”
“Jones, you’re a minister!” I thought. “You’re meant to be steeped in the theology of the Church and the traditions of the Christian centuries! Wham?!? Really...?”
Actually, it could just as easily have been Mariah Carey singing “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. That always does it, too.
I started thinking. What was going on? There are carols, and lines in carols, which move me to the depths of my being: Once In Royal David’s City (“tears and smiles like us he knew”); See, In Yonder Manger Low” (“down to such a world as this”). And I can’t hear anything from Messiah without remembering how my mother used to play it on the record player from the first of December on, right through Christmas.
George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley don’t move me like that, and neither does Mariah Carey.
But what Wham and Ms Carey do do is take me back to very specific Christmases, when our children were growing up, to tiny, almost meaningless things; last-minute shopping for something in another Glasgow superstore almost two decades ago, looking for a particular gift in a city-centre shopping mall, the music channel MTV on in the background, Mariah singing away as the children put up cards on strings and the dogs sniffed hungrily at delicious smells from the kitchen...
Real life. Small-scale, intricate, where we spend virtually all of our time. Supermarket-scale, stable, manger, shepherd-scale. And that, says Christmas, is where God is to be found. We need the shepherds as much as we need the angels.
There is great music that lifts our souls heavenward, and invites us to contemplate eternal things. That’s certainly one dimension of Christmas. But Christmas, as the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth reminded us, is about God’s Word, God’s self-expression, striking down from eternity into time.
Taking our human existence, who we are, how we live, infinitely seriously. God with us. God where we are. We need the wonderful and sublime, to understand Christmas properly - and we need the ordinary, too. The angels singing, and the shepherds humming along...
Merry Christmas, everybody! (Oh – that’s Slade, isn’t it?)