Christmas has arrived in the Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre. Santa’s grotto is in its usual place outside Tesco and on Saturday sacks of toys were being carried in, not by elves but by workmen in hi-vis jackets. So far, the only lights are a line of bulbs around wooden reindeer, but maybe there is more to come.
I used to love being taken to see the Christmas lights in town when I was a child. My dad would drive very slowly down The Moor, then the main shopping street in Sheffield, so that we could take in the view of the whole road, magically transformed by the snowflakes and Santas strung across the street. I thought then, if I thought about it at all, that this display was an act of pure public-spirited generosity. When I was told, much later, that the Christmas lights were an investment from the local Chamber of Commerce to boost the Christmas trading, I felt let down – I resented what I saw as commercial intrusion.
Now, though, I am relaxed about the mingling of secular and sacred at Christmas. It’s fine that the lights which lift our spirits should also support our local traders – after all, we depend on them throughout the year. And this is not just a practical compromise. This is what incarnation really means.
The whole point of Jesus being born in a stable is that he didn’t come to be kept separate from the world but to be part of it – part of the commerce of keeping animals, part of the business life of shepherds, part of the reality of an ordinary family. Jesus brings the transforming love of God into the everyday grubby old world, and makes it holy. The more unhappy and unholy the place, the more the love of God shines through. The darker the world, the more easily we see the lights.
In a troubled world, we look forward once again to the light of Christ breaking through at Christmas. We wait in Advent faith and hope.
May I wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.