Needing Christmas

December is my birthday month. It was a long time ago and I don’t recall my parents telling me any of the details that marked the day. After all, I was their first child! All I have is the hospital menu for Christmas Day and a couple of baby photos. My youngest brother thinks I’m lucky because he doesn’t even have that. Birth–day stories didn’t make it into our family stories.

Christmas is a birth-day story. The gospels of Luke and Matthew both tell the story of Jesus’ birth, each a little differently. Matthew leant heavily on the hand-me-down Old Testament stories familiar to his Jewish readers, so he didn’t have to explain how they fitted into his Jesus birth story. On the other hand, Luke picks up the human side of birth and links them with Jesus’ divine origins, a focus that his mainly Greek readers were comfortable with.


Down through the centuries ordinary people took the two stories and made them into one, embellishing them with traditions that fitted their culture. So we have carols and Christmas lights, gifts and re-enactments of this birth-day story. This has never quite satisfied religious theologians who focus on the how and why, the ins and outs of Jesus’ divinity. In have always got pretty fussed about the way the rest of us choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

When I read their serious words or hear them repeated in a homily, I am left feeling that the joy of gift-giving, decorations, food and family are somehow irrelevant to real religion. Mary Oliver, a poet, said that her job was to unpeel the mundane to reveal the momentous. From where I sit on the edge it looks as though a whole lot of what is momentous can get lost in the mundane of Christmas or even in the wordiness of theologians.

Families sort out the who’s-doing–Christmas-this-year and who-brings-what. Suburban houses twinkle with flashing lights, inside and out, shopping centres bustle with people thinking about what someone else might want, need, look good in or be amused by. Groups gather in municipal parks to sing Christmas carols, Netflix dusts off a whole range of feel-good movies and work mates turn into secret Santas.

I need Christmas. I need an excuse to recapture the kind of excitement that has children counting down the days. It stirs something inside me that adulthood has tried hard to override. I might bemoan the materialism that surrounds Christmas but there’s always something about it that touches my soul in ways that big business, and sometimes myself doesn’t understand.

Jesus’ birth-day wasn’t wrapped in security and plenty, but there was joy and peace and love, something the world needs, families need. Christmas reminds us to keep alive the story of that first Christmas day, to hear the story beneath the tinsel and Christmas trees.

It’s a time to tell children their own birth-day story, to remember that every birth holds within it all the promise and hope that attended Jesus’ birth 2,000 years ago when God came to live among us and angels sang, shepherds wondered and men from the East brought gifts.

Judith Scully

Stumbling saints and sassy sinners

Memories of loved ones are tangled things, calling up a jumble of emotions.

I remember my husband who loved golf, and John, his brother, who drove a train and conducted the parish choir. Both died far too young, both moved slowly into death with the same loving faith that characterized their whole lives.

I remember an aunt who devoted her life to looking after her widowed mother and unmarried brothers. Her Methodist faith was deep and strong for the whole of her 95 years.

I remember Kate, the long- anticipated and much loved baby who knew nothing about Jesus, and whom God gathered up into eternal love before she could walk or talk.

Two large plastic crates hold the journals my father wrote during the last twenty five years of his long life. I pick up one of the books, flick the pages open, and see my father, sitting at the kitchen table writing about his day in one of the exercise books he bought at a two dollar shop. Such items are precious, tangible reminders of the person who owned them.

None of these loved ones will have a church named after them, or be mentioned in the Litany of the Saints, but the Church recognizes each of them on the feast of All The Saints.

When I was young the feast of All Saints was like a roll call of people who lived a long time ago. They were mostly priests, bishops or nuns, often died as martyrs, never seemed to have had much fun and had Saint tacked to their name. As far as I could see they had nothing in common with the people I was familiar with. Then and there I decided that sainthood was out of the reach of ordinary people.

Now I know differently. For every Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, co-workers, neighbours, nurses, crowd-2045499_640-e1494017985935supermarket employees and other individuals in various occupations and countries, who all lived prayerful lives, imbued with the Gospel values of Jesus Christ. In other words – saints.

The Apostle’s Creed says this very simply: I believe in the communion of saints. Suddenly my family story isn’t all there is. In some wonderful God -way I am linked with every person who ever linked their lives to God, whatever their race or culture, whether they died today or thousands of years ago.

In reflective moments, times when a memory of a loved one is triggered by something tangible, I remember that each person’s life story doesn’t just begin at conception and end at death. It starts before they are born and goes on into eternity. There is no time with God. Our prayers for those who have died have been gathered up into eternity, contributing to the bliss that is everlasting life with God.

November invites us to pray to all the saints- all those sassy saints and stumbling sinners who lived before us- asking them to help us to live our lives in faithfulness, hoping, no, knowing, that one day we too will be numbered among all the saints.

Judith Scully