So, its 2nd of January, and its all over, then.
Well, no, its not; and although our lectionary has provision today, Sunday 2 January, for the Epiphany, I’m hanging on to Christmas for dear life. I’m told that I’ve always been awkward, and I’m told that this is evidence of it.
That’s not because I dislike Epiphany – how could you? – but it seems that extending Christmas forwards, to its rightful length, is a difficult thing to do. So this is also the 2nd Sunday of Christmas as far as I’m concerned.
You see, I try not to start Christmas until 25 December. I don’t want you to have an image of a Scroogesque figure through Advent, giving it the full ‘bah, humbug’ while people are rejoicing – far from it, I love the Advent approach to Christmas, and, since I was Ordained this year, it’d be difficult not to.
What I think I’m doing is separating out the private from the public aspects of my spirituality. Some years ago – before ordination and still, I insist, un-Scrooge-like – I decided to observe Christmas-through-Advent; that is, to be aware of it, to watch people going about it, to prepare for it, yes, but not to make the movement in my mind to Christmas until the moment I woke up on 25 December.
If I’m honest, it turned out to be rather a nuisance, but I’d decided to do it, and had unwisely broadcast that was what I was doing, so couldn’t go back.
But the biggest surprise to me was how much difference that mindset made. Advent, Christmas, and then Epiphany somehow became absolutely distinct in a lived way; each season felt different, had different characteristics and, when the liturgy changed, there was a good reason for it. So, by 3pm on 25 December, after the Queen, when lots of people thought it was all over, for me, the celebration had barely started.
And, in my warped mind, this extension of the season started to have parallels with welcome. My determination to extend Christmas for 12 days seemed to mirror the way we extend welcome to people into our communities. I wonder sometimes if our welcome is like the shortened Christmas – in that once we welcome people, we get it done, and then we then move on to welcome other, newer, people. There’s no doubt about our welcome – its just that I wondered if it’s a vertical welcome; so, you’ve been welcomed, you’re in, now, I need to welcome elsewhere. We should try to be sure that welcome is an active, ongoing, extending thing – not a functional, one-shot event. Can we extend a welcome, like I’m extending Christmas, so that its who we are, rather than what we do?
In the reading today (in the 2nd Sunday of Christmas provision) from Ecclesiasticus, the narrator says ‘in the beloved city he gave me a resting-place…’ The narrator has a welcome, and more than that, a sanctuary, and a home, a place to rest and to be with people. No-one is rushing on to the next thing. ‘I took root in an honoured people,’ says the narrator. That’s the effect of extending welcome; roots are laid, and resting places are established.
So - happy Epiphany…I mean, happy Christmas... er, well, do it the way feels best to you. I hope both are full of love and grace for us all.
- Is your welcome an extensive, and extended one? Are we sure that we are still welcoming people who are already part of our church families, like we welcomed them when we first met them?
- Do we underestimate how overwhelming a welcome might be? How can we be contextually nuanced in the different welcomes that we extend to different people?