This blog is written by Martin Lees, one of our Readers
Did you spend Christmas Day with a baby or toddler – perhaps your child or grandchild? If so you will know how funny they are as, when given their Christmas presents (so carefully wrapped up by their parents or relatives) they always show much more interest in the wrapping paper and ribbons than in what is actually contained inside. The gift itself is often cast aside, not being properly understood or not appreciated because it doesn’t offer immediate gratification – whereas the stiff, colourful and (in some cases) shiny wrapping paper makes lovely scrunching sounds, catches the light, can be folded over again and again to make different shapes; it can be used to wrap up baby hands or feet, or torn into little pieces to create coloured snowflakes, thereby being an instant hit as a toy.
This naivety in getting things back to front makes us smile. But it becomes tragic when so many babies grow up – and continue to make the same mistake! But now the wrapping paper is made up of all the Christmas trimmings that have gradually accumulated in our society over the years – a Christmas tree and decorations, the stress of buying suitable presents for all the family, Christmas dinner and Boxing Day lunch, pantomimes, visits to Santa, Christmas specials on TV, much-loved movies – from The Snowman to It’s a Wonderful Life – office parties, mulled wine with friends and neighbours, and generally consuming plenty of food and alcohol. These have become, for many people, the main features of their Christmases.
Meanwhile the actual gift is cast aside, being misunderstood or unappreciated – the gift of Jesus, God entering his Creation as a human being to live among us.
What has happened to all your wrapping paper now? In most cases it has gone to the recycling centre. It added some colour to the short period from when the presents were displayed under the Christmas tree until they were all unwrapped. But it had no lasting use or value and so was discarded. In the same way the trappings of Christmas have no lasting value, they are ephemeral.
For many people in our community the trappings of Christmas include singing carols, a Nativity or crib service and maybe a Christingle, bringing them into contact with the Church. But too often these are merely just part of a family’s “Christmas wrapping paper”, soon forgotten until next year. As a church we sometimes add other popular elements such as mulled wine and mince pies to our Christmas programme, so as to attract people in. Does that mean we are falling into the “trappings trap”?
The Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries would have said that we are; their approach to worship all year round was to strip out all but the bare essentials, with no colourful priestly robes or cloths, no flowers or other ornamentation, and little or no music, so that they could indeed focus on the “true gift” of Jesus Christ, with no distractions.
Personally I feel this goes too far. Jesus’ very first miracle (which we remember during the Epiphany season) was not to heal someone, but to help out at a wedding feast at Cana when the hosts had run out of wine. Jesus wants to bless us in times of celebration as well as times of hardship or suffering. So clearly He approves of our having parties and celebrations – I’m sure he would enjoy mulled wine and mince pies! We just have to make sure that we always remember that these are part of the trimmings, and not “airbrush out” the real “reason for the season”, Jesus the Word of God taking human form – the most precious gift ever given.