‘How can you celebrate Christmas in a place like this,’ the prisoner asked me? At the time I was a very part- time chaplain in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. It was the middle of December. It’s a refrain we are hearing just now in a different context as the COVID restrictions remain in place. How can we celebrate Christmas this year with all that is going on?
My answer to the prisoner is still relevant today I think. If you can’t celebrate Christmas in prison then you can’t celebrate it anywhere. The first Christmas was celebrated against a background of an occupying army, high taxes, despotic rulers and random acts of senseless slaughter. The background of Christmas highlights its meaning in sharp relief. The darker and blacker the sky the brighter the star shines.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land asked the Jews in exile in Babylon centuries before? Eventually they realised they could sing with even greater confidence and strength because God was with them. So with Christmas this year we will celebrate, if not in large family gatherings, then rather with the reminder that Christmas means Immanuel-God with us. In these strange times the message of Christmas stands as a wonderful reminder we are not alone and never have been. So it will be that with confidence and strength we will wish people this year a very happy Christmas, and we will mean it.
Our services in advent will take up some of the traditional themes of the second coming and John the Baptist. The on-line services will continue this month. There will be a short service for Christmas Day, but there will be no Watchnight Service this year. There is a special treat on 20 December when the choir will lead us in an on-line service of lessons and carols. It promises to be an uplifting occasion . We also look forward to the return of Rev John Smith as our locum later this month. It will be good to have him back.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas
With best wishes