I am very conscious that my Christmas Greetings in the previous post were not in the least religious. While not at first intentional, I do not find Christmas a particularly deep spiritual experience, unlike Good Friday and Easter.
Society has made it into a time of feasting, drinking and present giving, often to excess, with only lip service to its real meaning. Most of my acquaintances, other of course than those I know from church, did not go near a church on Christmas day. Those who did, mostly Catholic, probably went to midnight mass so as to leave time on the day for all the other activities. There are carols by candlelight held in most towns and cities but traditional carols are only a small part and Jingle Bells and much worse predominate. Santa is far more recognisable than Jesus. Houses decorated with lights have a large Santa but a small Nativity scene (if there is one at all).
This may be more obvious here in Australia where it is the start of the summer holidays. As a boy, our family usually spent Christmas in a beach side cottage. We went to church but in a small church bulging at the seams with its once a year Christmas surge. I remember several occasions in which my father and I stayed outside. Dad was a Methodist and at first did not take communion in an Anglican church and was not very interested either. Thankfully this changed and he was a regular communicant in the years leading to his death. In the Sydney Diocese young people do not take communion until confirmation, and in those days they did not even go to the rail for a blessing. So if the church was packed, it seemed best for Dad and me to wait outside while Mum and my sister attended.
Even when I grew older, Christmas services were nearly always in a strange church. After Dad's death, Mum and I worshipped in different parishes but my sister and I always went to Mum's church for Christmas.
Yesterday, although St James was packed, I recognised very few people. Probably the regulars were either away on holidays or had attended at Midnight. Most people attending were likely to be visitors to Sydney, such as the Prime Minister and his family, who wanted to attend an Anglican service such as they would experience in their home diocese and not the Happy Clappy service found in the Cathedral and most other so-called Anglican churches round the city.
Actually the choir sang Haydn's Missa Sancti Nicolai which must be one of the longest Eucharistic settings imaginable. Most of us oldies had to sit down before it was finished. A particularly poor choice for a packed service in which, although communion was distributed from the chancel steps, it still took close to 30 minutes. The whole service took over 2 hours so we sat down to Christmas lunch at 2pm. Probably a reason for many of the regulars to be absent.
Our family stopped giving presents at Christmas probably 30 years ago so I do not need to go near the shops in the lead up to Christmas. My sister served up a delicious dinner - Salmon and mango, Turkey, Ham and salad with baked potato and, most essential, Christmas Pudding with brandy sauce and/or cream. My brother-in-law plied me with a beer on arrival then champagne and West Australian sauvignan blanc so my two and a half hour train journey home felt a little strange but I was home in time to see the Queen's Christmas message and even to see on the news the Prime Minister leaving our church and, if I had used a magnifying glass, I would have been able to point out my sister and me on the steps in the background.
Back to the dinner, there are only 3 of us left in our family. My brother-in-law had his family over the previous Sunday. With Mum gone, I do not see much point but I have promised my sister that, if possible, I will return to Sydney for Christmas in the future. Perhaps it will be more significant when I live so far away,
Finally, I use to wonder why the Gospel for Christmas Day was John Chapter 1 which does not cover the usual nativity, shepherds, wise men etc. There is so much hype around the story and argument. There were messages in the newspaper last week knocking the likelihood that Augustus woud have held a census and, if so, it would not have been necessary for Joseph to go to Bethlehem. I now consider many of the stories around Christmas to be nice but unimportant but the essential message that God came into the World to be the most significant fact on which I can focus and for which I can give thanks.
And I have included the Kyries from Haydn's Missa Sancti Nicolai.
They are quite beautiful sitting here at home and not standing in a packed, hot and humid church wondering when you are going to get home for dinner.
Church Times on See of Llandaff
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