On the first day of Christmas…

As I write this month’s article for The Link, I am very aware that none of us knows what Christmas is going to look like this year. My first five Christmases in the Corby Glen Group of Parishes have brought an increasingly exciting level of engagement with an ever-broadening circle of people. Last year we had an evening of decorating the church’s 15 foot Christmas tree and the putting up of the church’s Nativity Scene. This was followed by Carol Services for Corby Glen Primary School and Charles Read Academy. Then there was the church’s own carol service and the Christmas Tree Fund’s ‘party’ in the Market Square. There was the village Christmas party in Irnham and there were Midnight Communion services in Irnham and Swayfield. Carols were sung and lessons were read, along with the consumption of mulled wine and mince pies, in Bitchfield and Burton-le-Coggles. On Christmas morning itself there was the joy of Family Holy Communion in Corby Glen, all rounded off with a beautiful Christmas party atmosphere in Bassingthorpe. And, all of this Christmas celebration began with a celebratory Messy Church meeting and a party for the housebound in The March Hare – a lovely early evening occasion that brought much joy, and was possible due to the generosity of one benefactor. My first five years in the Corby Glen Group of Parishes has seen much joy and celebration at Christmas.

This year will, of course, be different. There can be no carol services or communal gatherings. The schools cannot make the journey to the church to sing their Christmas songs and carols, and the housebound and lonely will not be able to come together for a tea party. So much is going to be different. But … no matter how different things may be, we can still celebrate. Many times every year I hear people complaining about the commercialisation of Christmas, of how it has lost its meaning, of how people spend obscene amounts of money on food, drink and presents. Well, perhaps 2020 is the year when we can put all that right!

Two thousand years ago a baby was born in a stable in the hill-top town of Bethlehem. Into that bustling town came a baby who was to change history. The baby Jesus came into a harsh and cruel world where power and money were the major driving forces behind all that was said and done. This year we have seen the power of politicians brought into question and we have seen national economies falter under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. We have even seen the highly commercialised celebration of the baby Jesus’ birth threatened with a curtailment of shopping and eating and drinking. We have been brought back to the simplicity of that stable in Bethlehem all those years ago.

Whatever fears you may have for the coming season of Christmas, the birth of the baby Jesus will still be celebrated. We might not be able to gather to sing Christmas carols but we can still sing in our hearts. I will be leading Christmas services on Zoom, and there will be CD versions of those services available for those who struggle with more modern technology. Yes, in the Corby Glen Group of Parishes, Christmas will happen!

With that thought ringing in your ears I want you to think about a Christmas song that is very well known and that has appeared in many different versions down the centuries. The song is the title of this article: On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me… As we all know, each day an ardent lover sends the love of his life more and more gifts. If you consider the words of the song carefully you will realize that the gifts are cumulative and not one-off expressions of affection. If you then add all of those accumulated gifts together you come to the total of 364. This well-known song reminds us of something very special about Christmas. On Christmas Day, wherever we may be, we will be celebrating the birth of God’s greatest gift to us, his own Son, Jesus. Then for the other 364 days of the coming year we can think of all the other gifts that have been bestowed upon us by God, and we can smile and celebrate.

Let us not be downhearted this Christmas. It will be different, but that need not dampen our enthusiasm for celebrating again the birth of the Christ-child. Let our hearts sing out as, during this year’s very different Christmas season, we join with the angels, the shepherds and the wise men in welcoming the baby into our lives once again.

Revd Stephen Buckman