Imagine this. You are sitting in an armchair by a crackling fireside in your slippers. On your right there is a Christmas tree decorated with lights, and presents for your family underneath. On your left there is a peaceful dog asleep on the rug.
This typical idyllic image of Christmas-time often depicted in films is an image that is designed to cultivate a sense of home in those watching. It conjures up a sense of timelessness and hope.
What generates this ‘home-coming’ feeling in you at Christmas? What images give you a sense of warmth and well-being? Maybe it is a Christmas album that you listen to every year, or the smell of Christmas dinner cooking in the oven.
This sense of belonging and rest is sometimes the kind of feeling I get in church. I say sometimes, because I don’t always feel like this, but every now and then there are beautiful glimmers of home…a sense that there is more than this. This is when I know God is present, and I feel a sense of true identity and belonging, loved by God and known by him.
As the evenings draw in and we get even closer to Christmas, many people will receive newsletters through their door from churches in their area holding carol services or midnight masses. It’s the one time where the gospel message of God taking on human flesh is preached very simply. Often, the story is told beautifully, with choirs singing and bells being rung.
So many people come to a church at Christmas while not making a service the rest of the year. Is it a sense of tradition, or nostalgia that brings them, or is it just something people do that resonates with being British? People seem to crave a sense of belonging around Christmas time.
Mine is a fairly broad church experience. I’m from a traditional background and as I was growing up, attended midnight mass at Christmas. Quite often, the service began with everyone in complete darkness, with each person being given an unlit candle to hold. Then, as the service began, a lit candle was passed from one row to another, slowly allowing people to light their own candle. Soon the whole church was basked in warm light. The ceremony celebrates the birth of Christ, as the candle symbolises Jesus as the light of the world. I love this service celebrating God coming into the world as a baby. It makes me feel at home.
While at University I found myself in lots of different expressions of church and each had their own special way of inspiring a sense of home and hope in people at Christmas.
The wonderful thing about a service at Christmas is that it brings a sense of unity among people, it’s the time where we’re encouraged by stories like A Christmas Carol not to be all ‘bah humbug,’ but to be neighbourly and share love and cheer with others. It’s a day that we journey towards with advent calendars, advent candles and prayer times, and if like me, you are part of the 24-7 Prayer movement, daily devotional videos.
The great thing is, once you feel at home on the Christmas journey, praying is as easy as breathing. It’s just a natural flow of air, in and out. You don’t even think about it. This is another reason I love Christmas, it’s a time to reflect on the year that has gone and the year that is coming, and commit it to God in prayer.
Let’s take some time to ask God to cultivate a sense of home for others this Christmas. As you breathe in, ask God if there is someone that needs blessing this season. Then as you breathe out pray that this person would be given what they need in abundance.
Jesus, meet with us.