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You may be surprised to learn that the way Christmas is celebrated has changed a great deal since its inception as a Christian festival and perhaps through these changes we can get some hint of how we ourselves can celebrate this festival now today.
 
Firstly, Christmas is not the most important festival in the church's year, that honour goes Easter, and in fact Christmas was not really officially celebrated at all until about 336 AD. when a pagan Roman festival was adapted. I will read you this quote from my dictionary of liturgy and worship:
 
"Christmas remains the most widely observed of all Christian feasts, perhaps because it combines human need for a party to enliven the gloom of mid-winter, the natural response to childbirth and the message 'Immanuel' God with us. It was a stroke of pure pastoral genius to Christianize the pagan mid-winter festival in this way. The midnight Eucharist of Christmas is probably the most commonly attended of all liturgical observances." 
                                          Dictionary of liturgy and worship
 
 
In 336 AD there was already in Rome a midwinter festival called Natalis Solis Invincti - The festival of the invincible Sun. Sun being S-U-N not S-O-N. The Christians of the time did what good Christians have always done through the ages. They took the experience of God - the awe and wonder - that was already evident in the pagan religion and gave it a new interpretation. Effectively they said "It is good that you worship the invincible sun but the real invincible son is not to be found in the sky he is the one we worship and is with us always. Let us together worship him together.
 
As a consequence, Christianity adopted the midwinter festival but kept many of the pagan rituals and forms wherever they did not directly conflict with Christian teaching. It is strange but I have recently heard several radio commentators say that "of course Christmas is really a pagan festival" as if they mean that somehow this discredits it as a Christian one.
 
What those early Christians did not do was deny earnest seekers after truth the experiences that they had had of God. This was Christianity's greatest strength. It can take, use, interpret and build on almost any true experience of God. I think that one of the reasons commentators today insist that we live in a secular world is because they cannot see past their own expectations of what religion and religious experience should be. The Christians are similarly sometimes too reluctant to see God except through the church’s own rigorously controlled lenses.
 
 Happy Christmas From the Three Valleys Team
 
     Tony Gilbert

 Team Rector

 

 

 

Three Valleys Team Ministry

 

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A PRAYER FOR ALL THOSE AFFECTED BY CORONAVIRUS

 

Keep us, good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy.

Sustain and support the anxious,

be with those who care for the sick,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may find comfort

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

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For a morning and evening liturgy, published by Lambeth, to be downloaded for use at home,

please click here

 

 

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The Reverend Tony Gilbert and his wife Nicola