flowergate unitarian chapel, whitby
rev margaret kirk
I hear people conversing in shop queues about their arrangements for Christmas. It’s almost as common a topic of conversation at this time of the year as the weather. Even in summer and early autumn there are folk talking about their arrangements:
‘My son’s coming back from Australia this Christmas’
‘I’ll be going down to my brother’s so I won’t need to do the cooking’.
‘We’re getting away from it all...going to Tenerife’.
For some, it’s a great and joyful thing to look forward to and plan for, but for some of us it can be bleak and empty; for others it’s a source of anxiety; for all of us it can be stressful in some way or another.
Expectations. We can’t avoid the fact we have them. Perhaps more than any other time of the year each of us has a sense of what Christmas will bring and perhaps more than any other time of the year, we are less able to negotiate for ourselves what we would like it to bring. We can quickly become locked into the expectations of others so that to break free from those expectations - of parents, children, friends - can feel like an act of rebellion requiring considerable courage. I advocate that kind of courage. A friend of mine who lost her husband a few months before Christmas, knew that being quiet on her own was exactly what she needed, despite the urging of well meaning friends who insisted she join them.
Forced sociability can be the loneliest of pastimes.
As Christmas is a holiday, I think we might be allowed to indulge in something that we really want to do and if that happens to fit the expectations of others, that’s all well and good but, if it doesn’t, we should still do it, for at least we will have carved out a space to suit our own needs and desires.
We won’t feel half so grumpy about fitting in with the needs of others the rest of the time. Each one of us should be allowed the opportunity to do something – within reason – that we want to do without having to defer to everybody else.
For me, it will be the joy of singing traditional carols with people I love; hearing the timeless story of the birth of Jesus that can never fail to bring shafts of light and love in the midst of darkness; it will be time with my family, my grandchildren, my friends but, essentially, space for quietness and reflection too.
Of course, the story of the birth of Jesus has carried the weight of enormous expectation through the centuries. It has rich transformative power.
Perhaps we should allow it a place in our hearts where it can live and reverberate and, through each of us, work its healing magic in a troubled world.