Here’s one I made earlier. A Christingle. And here’s one I bought, a beautiful Christmas bauble. No prizes for guessing which one is most aesthetically pleasing. The version of the Christingle story I read earlier emphasises the haphazard nature of the construction of the first Christingle, an orange that was a bit past it’s best an old ribbon, a few bits of dried fruit or sweets. And here it is a funny looking rather lopsided thing. It might not even last till Christmas; it might have started to go off before then. The first time I made them in school they began to rot and turn green on my windowsill filling the room with a horrible smell. In some ways they seem a bit of an insult to Christmas.
Whereas this bauble is beautiful, perfect, made for the purpose, reassuringly expensive as the advert has it, I can enjoy this decoration this year and then carefully pack it
away and bring it out year after year to adorn my tree and beautify my home. Surely this is a much more fitting ornament to mark the birth of our saviour and king?
And as I thought about the beautiful bauble and the rather haphazard looking Christingle then I began to think about Christmas, about the first Christmas, about God miraculously sending his only son to earth to be our lord and our saviour, and about our response to that miracle. Is our response to Gods miracle of Christmas a Christingle or a bauble? Are we bauble Christians or Christingle Christians? Or indeed can we be both?
Bauble Christians like to come to church at Christmas time, they like the beautifully decorated churches, they like singing the carols probably preferring the traditional ones, none of this new-fangled stuff, they like seeing children performing nativity plays with tea towels on their heads and fluffy lambs. They love the age old story; they get a warm glow when they think about God becoming man and being born in a stable. And then they sit down and eat a HUGE Christmas lunch.
And there is nothing wrong with any of that except that those bauble Christians often do with Christmas what I am going to do with this beautiful decoration. Once Christmas is over they pack it all away and they don’t think about it till they bring it out again next year. They are Christmas tourists, they want to look at it and experience the wonder and awe with their senses but they don’t want to engage with it, they want to keep their distance; they don’t want to respond to it, get involved with it, get their hands dirty or consider that the message of Christmas lasts all year round.
The wise men who set out to seek for a new king were expecting a particular kind of king. They looked in the place where they expected to find a king, in a palace. Somewhere rich and beautiful with silk drapes carved furniture, all shiny and beautiful, sparkling with gold and gems. Surely this is where a king should be found. But Jesus wasn’t there.
And if we are, or want to be, Christingle Christians then I think we need to travel with the wise men, and maybe even some wise women, we need to see past the sentimental delights of the bauble Christmas to find the reality that lies beneath.
The king the wise men were seeking was found in a stable. Well actually not a stable or even a barn but a cave on the hillside used for keeping animals, that famous ox and ass. A smelly cave with animals, real animals, not the smiling amiable animals of the Christmas cards but actual animals a bit dirty and unkempt, and maybe bad tempered about being disturbed, stamping their feet and snorting. Real animals in a real cave with old straw and mud and animal droppings, a place where you had to watch where you put your feet, a very unlikely place to find a king.
And this king wasn’t a man with a jewelled crown and rich robes this was a new-born baby, a baby born in a cave with only his young and ill-prepared parents in attendance. A baby born like every other baby is born, with blood and sweat and tears, because a real birth can be a messy, frightening, long and painful experience.
And who were the first visitors to this king, shepherds. Now we don’t always realise how shepherds were regarded in first century Palestine. They would have been a pretty scruffy lot and because they were out tending their sheep they missed a lot of temple worship so from a
religious point of view they were beyond the pale. The whole scene, so familiar to us from Christmas cards and nativity tableau, cleaned up and sanitised would have been dirty, smelly and pretty chaotic. And perhaps the Carol ‘Away in a Manger’is correct perhaps the baby Jesus didn’t cry but my experience of babies would lead me to think otherwise!
A smelly and messy and scary scene yet God took it and transformed it into the most important event in history, God becoming man to save his creation.
I think it does us good as we approach Christmas to think about that first Christmas and to think about what kind of king was born in that cave, what kind of king is OUR Lord and saviour. Our King wasn’t born in a bubble of privilege and wealth our king was born into the real world. The
God we speak to in our prayers is not ‘a God who doesn’t care who lives a way up there’, he is a God who knows intimately what it is like for us. Jesus knows about lives lived in the real world, he knows about the joys and the sorrows of family life. He knows that sometimes our lives can be chaotic and frightening, painful and out of control. God sent Jesus to earth to close the distance between God and his creation, God became man and lived in the messy world that we all inhabit. God knows first-hand what it means to live as a human.
So if we want to be Christingle Christians then we need to be aware that we are not expected to live in a lovely Christmas bauble we too are expected to live in the real world, the smelly, mouldy world. We are expected to get our hands dirty as we seek to bring the message of Christmas to everyone. We need to know about the real suffering in our world, the poverty, the disease, the homelessness, the loneliness; the families that are falling apart, the children dying needlessly and we need to decide what we are going to do to make life better for those in our world who are struggling for whatever reason.
Amongst all the lovely words read from the bible at this time of year we often hear these:
‘For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.’
Jesus was sent as the supreme act of God’s love for his creation and our response to that ultimate Christmas gift is the gift of our love to the world.
We cannot be Christmas tourists we need to be Christmas activists using our time our money our prayers and our influence in all the messy, chaotic and scary situations in
the world to bring hope and reassurance to bring love and safety, to bring Jesus.
We cannot celebrate Christmas for one day or one season and then pack it away for the rest of the year, the message of Christmas , the message that the angels gave the shepherd ‘
‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’
Is the message that we need to believe, to spread and to work to share with everyone in Gods world.
So as we approach Christmas are we bauble Christians or are we Christingle Christians? Well I’m a great one for trying to have it all; I think we can be both. It’s OK to enjoy all the sentimental, traditions. It’s OK to have a huge lunch and watch mindless TV. It’s wonderful to
spend time with family and friends. But let’s remember that is just the tip of the ice-berg, Christmas is about so much more than that.
The reality is that a baby, Jesus was born
‘because of the tender mercy of our God, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the path of peace.’
So as Christingle Christians let’s make sure that we too shine in the darkness for Jesus, shine in the darkness of our world not just at Christmas but every day of the year, every day of our lives.
When the songs of the angels are stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their
Flocks,the work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among people
To make music in the heart
To make music in the heart