Summary: Carol Service sermon asking whether we regard the Christmas story as merely a story, or are there facts which should make us sit up and respond?
Christmas is a wasteful time !
Not a waste of time, but a wasteful time. In 1998 the UK threw away 2.5 billion cards, worth £350 million in the shops. If you stuck these cards end to end they would have stretched 236,000 miles - that’s nine times round the globe!
We used a massive 85,000 miles of wrapping paper round our presents. And over the week of Christmas on average every adult throws away 17 tin cans, 9kg of paper, 6 glass bottles, 5 plastic bottles. Only 6% of this is recycled - the rest ends up in Chelson Meadow (and other landfill sites).
For many people, this Christmas will be a difficult time.
Age Concern estimate that 400,000 elderly people over the age of 75 will spend Christmas home alone. Many other people will wish they were at home for Christmas, but floodwaters have driven them out... and of course, the inconvenience we’ve had in the UK seems trivial when set alongside the floods, devastation and loss of life in other nations during the past year.
Plymouth has over 400 asylum seekers, moved here by the Government. Many of them are young men, refugees on the run from trauma and terror in their home countries, unable to speak English, isolated and uncertain of their future. (Maybe it’s worth mentioning that Mary and Joseph had to flee their home country too - Jesus spent the first years of his life as a refugee.)
There’s another group of people who won’t get the chance to celebrate Christmas at all - not now that Levonelle is being made available over-the-counter like paracetamol. It makes me wonder how Mary’s mum and dad felt about their daughter’s embarrassing, unmarried teenage pregnancy?
In Bethlehem Christmas has been cancelled. Well, you can’t actually cancel the 25th of December - but the celebrations have been cancelled because of the risk of further violence. Do you fancy gunfire and stones on your way to Church for worship on Christmas morning?
And then of course there’s still Northern Ireland...
For other people, it’s not a difficult time so much as a ridiculous time.
The wise men and women of the Perth and Kincross County Council have banned parents from taking video film of their little darlings in the school nativity plays. After all, it’s an invasion of other children’s privacy ...at least, that was the Council’s argument.
And earlier this week the Hackney Council issued staff with a memo which asked them to tone down Christmas celebrations and to keep decorations in offices and public buildings to a bare minimum. Not because of costs. No - according to the memo wise Councillors feared that, "such a message could be considered offensive."
Or there’s the warning sent by the head of one American high school to the editors of the student newspaper: "Be careful that you don’t associate the upcoming holiday with any particular religion."
Happy Christmas everybody ! Happy Christmas Scrooge !
Last year, of the top twenty best-selling Christmas card designs, not one of them had any Christian imagery on them of any kind at all. We’ve gone from CHRISTmas to Xmas, where ’X’ stands for anything you like as long as it’s cheerful, cuddly, or nostalgic.
And really, it’s not surprising, is it?
In a survey last year 6 out of 10 people chose to describe themselves as "Christian". But only 30% of those claimed to go to church most weeks - that’s 20% of the whole nation’s population. Someone is exaggerating - it’s more like 11% in fact.
Actually, 43% of people surveyed said they would be going to church sometime over the Christmas period. I think that means that you are just - just - sub-normal! Most people will be avoiding Christ at Christmas.
And what about the facts of the Christmas story?
22% of people surveyed claimed that Jesus Christ is "just a story" - a fictional character. They are more likely to think a spaceman came travelling to earth than believe that God became involved in the nitty-gritty of human life.
Last week in Radio Devon’s phone-in one discussion centred around complaints that a Vicar, of all people, had dared to suggest that Father Christmas was not in fact real. One caller argued that children should be allowed to believe what they like, and find out later that their parents have been telling them lies. Can’t you hear the child?
"Mum and Dad used to tell me that a fat man in red fur coat somehow squeezed down our chimney (only we’ve got central heating) left a few presents, and went back the same way. Amazingly he did the same for every other child on the planet. But now I found out they were lying and Father Christmas isn’t real."
"Mum and Dad used to tell me about Jesus..."