“Standing in the rain, knocking on the window
Knocking on the window on a Christmas Day
There he is again, knocking on the window
Knocking on the window in the same old way.”
So wrote Sydney Carter in 1965, in a song pointing to the comfortable complacency of 'Christians' who did not recognise who it was asking for hospitality and shelter at their well found homes. The lyrics may perhaps be a little obvious for present day taste -
“No use knocking on the window
Some are lucky, some are not, sir
We are Christian men and women
But we're keeping what we've got, sir.”
- but the truth which underlies the words does not change. Today, fewer may describe themselves as “Christian men and women” and more will make their devotions before the altars of self-indulgence with a nod towards a sentimental and nostalgic half-memory of the Nativity narrative as mediated to us by the advertising and marketing industries.
Others will choose a celebration centred around the winter solstice and in doing so, acknowledge a pre-Christian spiritual connection between the natural environment and our physical vulnerability – a connection which the Church has partially adapted to its own message.
Whether we follow the Christian narrative, the Pagan celebration of nature's rebirth or – as many of us do – a fusion of both these powerful mythic truths, there is a common thread of potential for transforming change running through the season.
But the culture of consumerism and individualism – which becomes strangely conformist in the face of the tyranny of the conventional Christmas – pushes the perception of transformation further and further away from us. At a time in the annual cycle when our physical capacities are often at a low ebb, and when the days are short and cold, we permit ourselves to be burdened further by shopping, parking problems, catering, gift wrapping and family strain.
As 'austerity' pushes so many deep into fear and despair, the need to drill down into what this season offers rather than what it demands becomes more urgent, both for our own spiritual and emotional health and for that of others. The increasingly frantic pursuit of the 'perfect Christmas' (itself a triumph of the advertising industry over sense and morality), leads many exhausted families to close their doors to the world on the day for which they have become so overwrought and possibly indebted.
Solipsism and exclusion are inimical to true celebration. Whether we are looking for the return of the vernal sun or the Sun of Righteousness, we do it best when we do it with those whose needs are often overlooked. If our doors are closed to the lonely, the grieving, the sick or the plain awkward, we have indulgence without festival. “Keeping what we've got” leaves no one with anything of true value.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen