Here I offer you my friend Philip’s Christmas 2016 Letter written to his flock – Philip is a priest – and I felt it good to share this piece with you. Peter
Once again whilst we weren’t looking and when we were busy with something that seemed quite important at the time, Christmas has stolen up on us stealthily and quickly, and like a naughty child has shouted ‘Boo!’ into our ear.
On the topic of children, you might notice that Christmas is often said by people we meet and chat with to be ‘for the children’. Indeed it is ‘for the children; it is for the ‘children of God’ and every one of us, whether inside or presently yet outside the fold; is nonetheless and notwithstanding ‘a child of God’.
So Christmas, it turns out, is for everyone; each individual; every person; all and sundry; and both collectively as the human race, and individually as each person as a living spirit with an individual soul gifted to us and created by God.
But our friends and acquaintance don’t mean that when they say to us ‘Christmas is for the children’. They mean something like the following short story I am going to tell you which I have taken from the Tom Hanks Christmas movie ‘The Polar Express’.
Here is a boy nine, ten, eleven years of age; on the cusp of puberty and teenaged years; and just at that age whereabouts the ‘magic’ of childhood is beginning to lose a lustre which it wears gaily in early years; an age at which the ‘cloths of heaven’ are beginning to fray and to bleach-out in the approaching daylight of adulthood.
The boy is in bed and it is Christmas Eve; and he overhears his little sister getting excited about Santa coming and he gives a disenchanted half sneer to himself; thereby dismissing those ‘childish things he is putting away’ from his more ‘mature’ belief. He drops off to sleep and dreams of – or is he woken up by? – a huge steam locomotive, The Polar Express, halting by his front gate. The engine chugs and the wheels on the rails creak and groan amongst the icy snowdrifts outside his bedroom window.
He does not yet realise that boarding this train is his last chance for him to rescue the magic and lustre of Christmas for himself, and to carry it into and throughout his adult life along with him. He is allowed by the Conductor to board the train – but only just about.
The difference to his life this boarding the train is able to make is illustrated in the movie by the boy’s being unable to hear Santa Claus’ bell ringing on his reindeer sleigh; whereas the other children on the train he boards are able to hear the bell’s ring. The bell thus holds in its ringing all the magic and lustre of Christmas.
The boy – we never know his name – thus he is ‘everyboy’ and ‘everygirl’ – is now in danger of losing touch with his spiritual existence and is coming very close to accepting the humdrum and routine ideas of our mundane secular world and its traditions which are prevalent around him; a secular world in which people presume – with some self-conceit – that the idea of Christ and of Christ’s birth which we celebrate at Christmas is ‘only for the children’; and that grown-ups ‘know better’.
The sadness of this secular outlook is well brought home to us in the movie; the dismally sad outlook and lives of those parents who make Christmas special for their kids; and who by doing so feel they are living out a ‘noble lie’ for their kids’ sakes. By them loading down the kids with presents and then seeking their own solace and satisfaction in Christmas solely and pathetically through their children’s joy and delight – and assuming wrongly and very, very, sadly, ‘there’s nothing in Christmas for us’.
The boy in the movie The Polar Express in the end is rescued from his willingness to ‘grow up and be smart’ and jettison Santa Claus and Christmas, and so be a ‘big guy’. He is thus rescued from an inevitably sad unfulfilled adulthood and from a lifetime of chasing after only secular rewards all of which are illusory and transient; and saved also from being wholly absorbed in chasing flimsy material and money goals and ambitions. His experiences on The Polar Express train enable him to wake next morning, and to find one of Santa’s sleigh bells in his bed. He shakes the bell– and lo! – it rings tunefully, joyously – it’s Christmas! – and he hears it! – and we too who are watching the movie hear it ring also. The movie ends happily.
Do we not have here the unhappy situation of the unlucky people who say in all sincerity to you and to one another that ‘Christmas is only for the children’?
The implication in these words of theirs and their outlook is that there is nothing in Christmas for them themselves; nothing for them to celebrate; except for some time off work and a winter break perhaps, and too much food and drink – but no spiritual sense of freedom – no elation and thankful joy at realising in their hearts their having been ‘rescued from this miserable body of death’ by the Christ child’s birth. The child born in The Holy Land whose subsequent life and mission, example and teaching, death and resurrection; together with his copper-bottomed promises offered freely to all who might want to take them up – have put in place our Salvation and our Redemption; all our Gracious gifts to be received.
As an emblem of Christ in the movie The Polar Express ‘Santa Claus’ carries all the Christian promises on the shoulders of his name. The outlook of those who feel there is ‘no Santa Claus’, who maybe even regretfully and not antagonistically deny Christ, and think him a fairytale like Santa Claus, suffer having, to quote John Milton ‘wisdom at one entrance quite shut out’. Life for the persons who for whatever reasons deny Christ is at bottom a thing without lustre, without magic, without ultimate hope, and such a life bears no expectation of promise for a happy ending. Their sleigh bell rings – but they are unable to hear it.
Let us finish with an exhortation, a Christmas anthem, taken from St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians which I think sums up the liberation in joy and in willingness to serve the Lord Christ; which we all are so very privileged to be able to take part in – in this, and in the words of St Paul, we can, when we listen very carefully, hear our bell ringing;
‘….my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.’