I’m sat in the crowd at a school’s nativity play amongst the usual gathering of parents and siblings. Two lads in the top class can’t stand the sight of one another, but have still been given parts of Joseph and the Inn Keeper. This proves to be a disastrous piece of casting.
With the arrival of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the Inn Keeper refuses their access. Then Joseph as required pleads with the Inn Keeper by saying, “she is having a baby you know.”
“Well that’s nothing to do with me”, argues the Inn Keeper.
Then Joseph, not wanting to be upstaged, improvises by saying, “I know, and it’s nothing to do with me either!”
The same can’t be said when you’re a member of the clergy. Christ’s birth is everything to do with you and this is proven by the sheer volumes of services to conduct around the festive period.
So if by Christmas Eve you are so exhausted you just wish to skip Christmas altogether, I truly understand.
When I’m feeling that way, I often look at the book Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, who I hope will forgive me for this brief synopsis.
Skipping Christmas tells the story of an American couple Luther and Nora Kranks and their daughter Blair. A few weeks before Christmas Blair informs her parents that she’s off to Peru for a year to help out at a deprived community.
In her absence, Luther decides that he and Nora should skip Christmas and enjoy a cruise instead.
But all is not straight forward. First the printer rings to ask for their usual personalised Christmas card order and Luther explains the situation. The printer is upset but Luther is undeterred. No Christmas, no cards.
Next to go is the Krank’s participation in the Christmas light display on their street. For years everybody has made a great effort and often they have won first prize. This year though there will be no large Santa on the Krank’s roof, nor lighted trees and garden. The neighbours are collectively disappointed at Luther’s negativity.
Worse still, the Kranks had always invited over friends for a Christmas Eve party, but this year they have to cancel. Obviously their friends are upset. They wonder if perhaps Luther and Nora have fallen out with them.
Blair rings early on Christmas Eve to say she is coming home for Christmas and bringing her new boyfriend.
What are Luther and Nora to do? The cruise has cost $3,000, but she’s their only daughter and will expect Christmas to be celebrated and for them to vet her new man. So Luther struggles with his conscience and decides Christmas will not be skipped after all.
But it’s now too late to send out Christmas cards. Any tree they can now buy will be a poor specimen. The best festive food will no longer be available.
For Blair’s sake he decides to tell their friends that the party s on again, but it’s too late. Upset by the earlier cancellation, their friends have made alternative arrangements.
Luther knows that he faces the disapproval of his neighbours if he puts his lights up. However, he knows he has to for his daughter’s sake, so he gets to work. As he is putting his Santa on the chimney, he suddenly trips and finds himself hanging from his roof.
The neighbours rush out of their homes in force to help, but despite their efforts they fail and the local fire brigade have to rescue him.
So Nora and Luther (with his injured knee) repay their neighbour’s kindness by inviting all of them to their Christmas Eve party. They all agree to come.
The neighbours kindly offer to bring plenty of food and drink. Plus, one of the neighbours is going away for Christmas so give their tree to the Kranks, complete with decorations.
When Blair arrives Christmas is being celebrated better than ever, with dazzling festive decorations inside and out, all the food and drink anybody could wish for and a brilliant party in full swing. Christmas is definitely not being skipped.
But what of the cruise tickets which had cost $3,000? Luther is told that one couple not present, could not face celebrating for the wife had just been diagnosed with cancer. Luther visits them and hands them the tickets.
They explain they can’t accept them because of the costs but Luther explains it is a gift without strings and leaves them overwhelmed with his generousity.
Luther has rediscovered the joy of the occasion, realising that he must share Christmas with family and friends, whilst appreciating giving to those in greatest need.
I like that story because it represents the true meaning of Christmas. Thank goodness God did not think of skipping the first Christmas. Instead he offered in love to the people of this world the costliest gift of all, his own son, the King of Kings, as a babe born lowly in a manger.
So this is Christmas day, after officiating at school nativity plays, midnight mass and morning services, make sure you find time to enjoy the occasion.
However exhausted you might be, may you joyously celebrate the birth of our saviour with your family and friends and give and receive gifts lovingly in his name. Christ’s blessing be upon you.
The Revered Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His bishop has granted him a license with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine with six grown up children and is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the North of England.