Christmas here was different
The decorations are packed away for another year, we returned from a short break in the chilly winter sun, and the year ahead promises hard work, great blessing and much joy.
But it is important to take a moment to look back and reflect one last time on Christmas and the celebration of Messiah's birth just down the road from here in Bethlehem.
Christmas at CMJ is centred around our compound just inside the Jaffa Gate, where Christ Church is surrounded by the Guest House and the Heritage Centre. Every year we have an 'open house' where all can come and join us for hot soup, mulled wine, ginger cookies, Christmas carols and visits to the Heritage Centre, all culminating in a traditional service of nine lessons and carols leading up to midnight and Christmas Day.
This year, the wind was blowing, the rain was coming down, and it was COLD! We wondered if anyone would come; casual conversations as people wandered around the compound would be impossible, and visitors drifting in from other Christmas events would surely not be tempted out into the cold.
We were amazed; the courtyard filled up, and the Church was filled to standing room only most all evening as the musicians took us through the lovely old songs and led us into the presence of God with worship songs.
People came on their own, and in groups, and they stayed longer than in other years. Perhaps because of the weather, perhaps due to there being fewer people, it seemed that there was a greater sense this year of people wanting to learn about our faith, about why we do what we do, and about why the Babe born down the road in Bethlehem was so important. Conversations, debates and questions were ongoing all evening, all over. The mulled wine flowed, the soup was served, and the cookies all eaten up! A great evening was had by all.
And at the end of it, as we reflected, the sweet comforting joy of the Christmas story, the thrill of hosting all these people, and the love of God for us on this special evening really came over us. In spite of the weather, this was a really happy and Christ-filled Christmas!
Just yesterday, I received one last Christmas gift from friends, Stuart and Celia McAlpine, who are visiting Christ Church with a group they have brought from the USA. Included in the gift was a poem Stuart wrote for Christmas, that's published in his new book 'The Advent Overture', available on Amazon in the USA and in the UK. They described it as a bit of fun, but it is much more than that - it reveals a simple truth that sums up much of who we are here at CMJ, and what we stand for. He has agreed that I can share it here.
“They set up sacred stones … under every spreading tree.”
(2 Kings 17: 10)
While choirs exhort me to rejoice,
I’m numbed and needled by a choice
I have to make, immediately,
The purchase of a Christmas tree.
What chance my family will concur
That I selected the right Fir?
Would it be deemed heretical
If it were not symmetrical?
Which Douglas, Balsam, Fraser or
Thick Nordman would fit through my door?
Competing features call a truce
Perhaps I should check out a Spruce.
Perhaps a Serbian would do,
Or maybe Colorado Blue.
If all these options I decline,
There’s a Scottish or Virginia pine.
The indecision breeds duress.
Would a Cypress relieve the stress?
But wait, they say our Christmas tree
Came from Gentile idolatry;
That evergreens served to appease
Saturn, the god of wealth and peace.
I could use this as my excuse
For shunning Fir, resisting Spruce.
Self-righteously I could decline
The soft Cypress, the fragrant Pine.
So why do Gentile symbols reign,
If Christ was born in Jews’ domain?
When the angelic gospel burst,
Was it not proclaimed to Jews first?
And are not Gentiles neither root,
Nor even a natural shoot?
Did we not travel in the aft,
And were we not a gracious graft?
Why, yes indeed, thus now I see,
The Olive is my Christmas tree.