Except that we’re not in a Hollywood movie or Enid Blyton novel. Has anyone even eaten an actual chestnut? Not to mention that any fire I make would destroy rather than lightly toast them. The weather, rather than resembling the inside of a beautiful snow globe, is dank, grey and thoroughly miserable. And as for that tree, it’s either non-existent, bereft of gifts or swamped by stuff we can neither afford nor need.
When I was about six or seven, my theatrical career reached its peak. OK, so my twin pipped me to playing Mary, but I was given the very important role of Angel Gabriel. I had a song and everything. However, my moment of glory turned out to be – well – not very glorious. Halfway through my award-worthy performance, I fell down the back of the stage. And not on purpose. Embarrassed, bruised and determined to complete my performance, I tried to get back up on stage. Turns out, it’s much easier to fall off than jump up. So, I sat in the dark under the creaking, shoddy, temporary stage waiting for someone to rescue me. Except no one did. No one noticed me fall. No one noticed me missing. And no one cared.
So I might be using just a little poetic licence to make my shoehorned Christmas point more relevant, but it was hardly teaching and parenting 101. While I’ve clearly got over my Nativity mishap, Christmas is a genuinely horrific time for many children and young people. A frightening number of them fall through the gaps (the stage, if you will) at this time of year. And their experience is much more painful and elongated than my clumsy faux pas.
A recent government report highlighted a rise in child poverty for the third year running. It estimates that around a third of British children are now classified as “poor”. On page 20, Josh Lees unpacks some of the practical ways we can make our ministries more accessible to children and young people from poorer backgrounds. He quotes Rt Rev Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, who said: “It’s not enough to be a Church for the poor. We must be a Church of the poor. Only then will the renewal we long for come.”
What are we doing to make sure these children and their families don’t get overlooked this Christmas? How are we showing our communities that we are a Church of the poor?
One of the more confusing passages we read in our Christmas services is from John 1. It’s about a word who is, in fact, Jesus. And people who come to church once a year are meant to just figure this out and expect it to change their lives. But, once we wade through the philosophical jargon, these verses are life-changing. Verse 14 in The Message version says: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” Our powerful creator God laid aside his divine privilege (Philippians 2) and came to join broken people in our broken world with our broken choices.
Earlier this month, I spoke to award-winning children’s author Sally Lloyd-Jones (page 16). She said this: “We don’t realise how powerful stories are. God rescued us through a story, not a ten-point-plan. I think we don’t really trust stories because they are mysterious and we prefer things we can control. Rules don’t change you, but a story does. God’s story changes you.”
The Christmas story has the power to transform the lives of children and young people who sadly too often become invisible in our society: the broken families, the bereaved and the abused. God not only notices them; he lavishly loves and rescues them. But how will they know this good news unless we go to where they are and share it with them? We need to move into their neighbourhoods and lives, and show them the hope that this dirty, bloody Christmas child brings.