Who wants to a pull a cracker with the Minister?
Christmas has so many traditions, some more related to the Christmas story than others. The Christmas cracker is a great British institution, whether they’re Lidl’s extra cheap ones, or Evitavonni’s ones more expensive than Harrods. We all know that you get three things in a cracker: a gift, a hat, and a joke. I think these can can tell us something about Christmas.
First, the gift. Christmas is a time for gift-giving. And we talk about Jesus as being God’s gift to us at Christmas. But sometimes we forget what a gift really is. A gift is a symbol of love, given without demand for anything in return. We’ve become so accustomed to the idea that the things we really want in life are the things that we strive for through our own merits, things we have had to struggle and compete for. But the Christian message is that the opposite is true. The message of Christmas is that this baby in the manger is God’s gift to us, because he brings us life in all its fullness, now and in the age to come. A free gift, with no strings attached.
Second, the hat. In The Good Life they had homemade hats, and Margot was aghast to have one made from the Daily Mirror, and insisted on swapping for the Telegraph. In most crackers these days it’s a crown. Jesus is often called a king, but kings aren’t born in cattle sheds, kings don’t make friends with fishermen and tax collectors, and kings aren’t crucified. So, in the Christmas story God is telling us something about what kind of people really matter in the world. It’s not just people who live in palaces, and have a lot of money, and are respected by everybody. The shepherds are central characters in the story, and were the lowest of the low, the people whom everyone thought that God had no time for. And yet these are precisely the people to whom God sent many angels, in order that they should be the first people to greet the Messiah. The thing about the crown in the Christmas cracker is that we all wear them on that day when the King of the universe became unimaginably humble, so that we might all be kings through him.
And finally there’s the joke – where do you think Ministers get twelve months supply from? Many people mistakenly think that humour has no of a place in religion, and the popular images of religious people today seem to do more and more to reinforce that. But the Bible tells us that the Christian message is foolishness to people who think themselves wise. And when you think about it, it is a farce of a story that the creator of the galaxies, of life and being itself, should become one among us in a newborn baby, born in a barn in a small Palestinian town. May there be laughter in your homes today, because Christmas is the day when God laughs at himself and what he is prepared to do in his reckless love for these funny human beings he has created. And maybe God sometimes laughs at us too, at our churchy seriousness and piety. So this Christmas, let’s laugh with God.
May laughter, pleasure, joy, and love be with you all this Christmas.