Confession time… This evening I watched Countryfile (for those of you outside of the UK, it is a generally fairly dull show about rural Britain)… In my defence I didn’t watch the whole thing but as I turned on the TV I was drawn in by scenes of the beautiful city of Bath (a city that I will always love as it is where we lived when we were first married). I was enjoying the scenes of the Christmas market and wishing my local market in Kingston was more like this when the segment ended and a new segment about ‘the busiest profession at Christmas time’ began.
It was about, you guessed it, being a vicar (and specifically a rural vicar), and what that was like at Christmas.
As a vicar’s wife (albeit not in a rural area), I watched with interest, to see how this life, ‘the busiest profession at Christmas’ and the church more broadly would be portrayed…
Although the vicar in the programme was lovely, and obviously works hard in a large benefice of 12 churches and is well-loved by his parishioners, as the segment finished I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad.
It seemed that the focus of the segment was only on how much the vicar had to do, and with that there were lots of shots of him driving around in his car, running just a little late for services. It painted a fairly bleak picture of church life and cited stats of the declining church in the UK, and the presenter kept saying things like, “You must be so pleased when this busy Christmas season is over!” (Kudos to the vicar, who responded that he actually quite enjoyed the Christmas period!)
To me, the focus of the whole piece was only on how busy it is to be a vicar at Christmas (which is entirely true! Crazy times!), but what a sad thing to have as the sole focus! It was as if services and parish life were just something to be endured, (and thank goodness when they are over!!), rather than wonderful opportunities for communities to come together and to celebrate and give thanks for what God has done!
I suppose I was left feeling like the segment had somehow missed the point of Christmas and just focussed on the busyness of the season and on getting through it.
But, as I thought about it more, I realised that part of why I felt sad about it was that I recognised something of my own tendency to do this too. I know I can be so guilty of getting so caught up in the mad Christmas schedule and trying to get everything done (perfectly) in time for the big day, that the real reason for Christmas can become a little bit lost.
At the beginning of December I made Jonty an advent calendar (here’s the blog post on how I did it). I put a little something that tells part of the Christmas story as well as a chocolate coin in each pocket. He has loved it and every day asks me if he can open another pocket (and then after he has he asks me if he can open just one more, “Please Mummy, just one more teeny tiny pocket!”)
Today he got a pair of googly eyes and when he got it out he said, “What part of the Mary and Joseph story does this tell me about Mummy?” (I had to check because who knows what googly eyes represents in the Christmas story!!) Even though he also gets a chocolate coin, every day the Christmas story trinket trumps the shiny, delicious (yet much less interesting) chocolate coin and he rushes to put it in his treasure box with pride.
This has been such a lovely thing for me to observe but it has also challenged me on what I, as an adult, focus on at Christmas time.
Both Countryfile and Jonty’s advent calendar are such a challenge to me this Christmas. They both have reminded me not simply to focus on being busy and on making everything perfect and beautiful. The stable definitely wasn’t perfect or picturesque. It was probably dirty and smelly and simple and full of farm animals, yet it was the place where everything changed, where Jesus was born and where hope entered the world.
Both Countryfile and Jonty remind me and challenge me to remember the true meaning of Christmas, the hope brought by a tiny baby into the world!
My prayer for us all this Christmas is that our Christmases are less like Countryfile and more like little Jonty – far less about the mad rush, chocolate coins, sparkle, stuff and perfection and far more about the advent trinket, Christ, joy and hope!