Summary: Carol Service sermon focussing on the enjoyment and ignorance that surrounds much of the world’s "Christmas" understanding.

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I’m looking forward to visiting Middle Earth in a day or two...

J.R.R. Tolkein’s "Lord of the Rings" - having been voted top book in the BBC’s "Big Read" - reaches its conclusion in the third cinema film "Return of the King". It’s so tempting to start drawing on Tolkein’s imagery. The conflict between good and evil; themes of sacrifice, humility, loyalty and hope; and - especially at Christmas - the coming of the King.

Actually, I was much amused two years ago, after the first film was released, when news came on Radio Devon of someone who had been to see the film, enjoyed it immensely, and went to a bookshop in Plymouth to ask if they were going to do a book of the film! A mixture of enjoyment and ignorance.

More and more that’s an accurate description of Christmas in the UK - a mixture of enjoyment and ignorance.

Pete Waterman, of the Pop Idol judges, was involved in a BBC project that took children from schools in the West Midlands to form a choir for a Coventry Cathedral Christmas Songs of Praise. He wrote:

"I found it astonishing that 90% of our choir has never sung a traditional carol before this venture. Away in a Manger, Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing - those joyous choruses and simple moving lyrics that are part of the fabric of Christmas were unknown to them. Indeed too many of them seemed to lack any religious significance of Christmas, especially since nativity plays have been banned in many schools because of fears about offending non-Christian ethnic groups."

That stands alongside an incident at the Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock, Essex. A family - father, small boy and granny - had stopped beside the crib, evidently waiting for the child’s mother. The child was throwing money into the manger as if it were a wishing well. "Don’t throw money," granny said crossly, "give him a crisp." The boy started to toss crisps into the crib. Bored with that, he turned to his father. "Dad, what’s the baby for?" he asked. "I dunno," says Dad, "Ask your mother when she comes."

Perhaps the ignorance is being fuelled by Christmas Cards? Dancing snowmen, cuddly polar bears, snowy villages, flying reindeer, and robins glowing like a Sellafield meltdown ...all absolutely central to the Christmas story (according to Hallmark cards, anyway).

Alongside ignorance there’s a growing resistance in the UK.

By all means celebrate Christmas, but call it X-mas and for goodness sake don’t let it get religious. High Wycombe library refuses to display posters for (shock horror) a Carol Service.

The Red Cross ban Christian symbols from their shops at Christmas.

And Hackney Council issue staff with a memo to tone down Christmas celebrations and to keep decorations in offices and public buildings to a bare minimum. Not because of costs. No, the wise Councillors said they feared that (quote) "such a message could be considered offensive."

I used to look to America for examples, now they are becoming UK examples. There’s a creeping conspiracy to create a Christ-less Christ-mas.

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