Monday, 23 December 2013

Why you shouldn't care if you don't feel Christmassy...

A good few weeks ago now as I was on my way to work, walking up towards Holland Park tube station, I noticed a lady outside starbucks handing out free sample size cups of coffee. As I approached she asked me if I’d like to try the new starbucks eggnog latte.  Never one to turn down free food or drink, and having failed to make my early morning coffee that day, I was happy to oblige and took the free coffee.  Having taken a sip the nice starbucks lady asked me, “how does it make you feel? Does it make you feel Christmassy?” Slightly taken aback at the question, particularly at 8:45am on a Tuesday in November, I was unsure how to respond and so I simply said it was very nice, thanked her and went on my way to work.

What struck me about her question was the use of the word Christmassy - as if it was a recognised emotion, just like we might be feeling happy, sad, apprehensive or excited we might also be feeling Christmassy. I heard it used casually before but not with such confidence and was surprised to hear it used in a market research setting.

Of course what the lady was referring to was that sort of cosy, warm, ‘fuzzy’ feeling that we sometimes get around Christmas time.  The funny thing is I do know what she means and probably so do you.  It’s the feeling that may well remind us of our childhood Christmas’ and can be induced by the smell of a Christmas tree, a Christmas song, the fire crackling, the family gathered, the presents under the tree or indeed an eggnog latte.   

Since that morning in November I’ve heard the word Christmassy used quite a lot. From people at work complaining that they don’t feel Christmassy yet or declaring that it’s first time they’ve felt Christmassy this year to one BBC programme describing Jesus as ‘the one who got us feeling all Christmassy in the first place’.  My issue is not with feeling Christmassy – who doesn’t want to feel warm and fuzzy? It’s just I don’t think it has an awful lot to do with Christmas.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the amazing story of God becoming man.  If one looks through the two historical accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus the emotions that are used to describe how the different characters were feeling are far from Christmassy...

In Luke’s gospel: Mary’s is described as feeling afraid when confronted with an angel and then her magnificat sees her full of extravagant rejoicing and worship; Zechariah is described as being gripped with fear at the sight of an angel in the temple and later his emotions are more of enthusiasm and excitement as he declares his song of praise; the shepherds are described as feeling terrified at an encounter with a host of angels and at the sight of the baby Jesus gave praise and glory to God. The neighbours of Elizabeth are described as being filled with awe at what was happening.
In Matthew’s gospel: King Herod is described as feeling disturbed at the news of Christ’s birth; the magi are described as feeling overjoyed at seeing the star over the place the child was and then at the sight of the baby they bowed down and worshipped.

Fear, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, awe, terror, worship, praise, disturbed, overjoyed.  If nothing else these words tell us that the Christmas story is dramatic, dangerous and compelling and it demands a response from us that is extreme! This is what the great scenes of the incarnation do to us - when we see that God’s love is so great that he became a baby for us something changes within us. They demand something from us. Athanasius, a 4th century theologian, said that when we think upon Christ’s birth we are ‘smitten with awe’.   

A lot of fuss is made nowadays about getting that Christmassy feeling this time of year. That annual warm, cosy, fuzzy, feeling that the starbucks lady was concerned I had.  May I suggest that the emotions of awe, wonder, fear, joy, of even being disturbed are more appropriate for Christmas as we think upon the spectacular story of God entering this world and its implications for us not just today but for eternity.