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George Dunn Let's No Cancel Christmas

Let’s Not Cancel Christmas

Believe it or not, there was a time in the 17th century when parliament cancelled Christmas! George Dunn outlines three areas where as a church, we have a responsibility to not cancel Christmas again.

After One Big Church service this morning, I’m feeling on safe ground. The reason why I say that is because, for me, Christmas starts on the 1st of November. We have the Christmas playlist going on in the car – yes, if you drive with me from the 1st of November, it’ll be Christmas music! The Starbucks Eggnog Latte appears (other coffee shops are available, but frankly they’re not as good enough!) And Channel 5 starts to do those cheesy Christmas films on a Saturday afternoon that you can
just sit in front of and enjoy.

So I want to spend a few minutes just reflecting for a few moments on Christmas. I want to take you back to the middle of the 17th century, to the year 1640. In the midst of a huge rivalry between the parliamentarians and the royalists of the day, in 1640 we had the establishment of what was called the Long Parliament. Now if you wonder how long the Long Parliament was, it was 20 years, lasting until 1660. And it was during this time we had the 2nd English Civil War and the end of the 1st Carilion
era with the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Now the Long Parliament was dominated by a group of English Protestants known as the Puritans, and their mission was to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices. They maintained that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and should become much more Protestant. Now as part of their campaign, would you believe it, they were determined to put an end to Christmas.

This was partly because they disliked the extravagance of the Christmas celebrations of the time, which they said were ungodly, but also because they saw Christ mass as an unwelcome survival of the Roman Catholic faith, and they declared it a popish festival with no biblical justification. Can you believe it? That’s what they said. No biblical justification. And interestingly, they had the same ideas for Easter and a range of other festivals that the Church enjoyed. And in June 1947, the Long Parliament passed a law confirming the abolition of the feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun, and specific penalties were to be imposed on anyone holding or attending a special Christmas church service. You would have been thrown in jail this morning for One Big Church as to what happened in 1647. Specific penalties were to be imposed, and the Lord Mayor of London was ordered to ensure that London stayed open for business. They had cancelled Christmas.

Now of course, despite the law, there were those who continued to celebrate it privately until in the end, with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the ushering in of the second Carilion era, Christmas was once again officially reestablished. Now just in the same way as those parliamentarians in the 17th century attempted to cancel Christmas overtly, covertly in today’s culture, we have strong attempts from a number of directions to cancel Christmas, or at least to cancel the true meaning of Christmas. And as a church, we have a responsibility to ensure that we hold strong and don’t allow Christmas to be cancelled.

First, let’s not cancel the history of Christmas. Now there are some who may believe that Christmas is some sort of Dickensian construct, or they may even refer back to the poem of Clement Clark Moore, a visit from St. Nicholas, or what we know as the night before Christmas. Others may hark back to St. Nicholas himself, who was a fourth-century Christian saint who was renowned for his gift-giving. And as Christians, we may point back to the origin of Christmas as being a manger in Bethlehem in which Jesus was placed as a newborn human baby, supernaturally conceived within the womb of Mary. I’m going to say it differently. To my mind, the history of Christmas goes back much further than that. In Ephesians 1, verses 3 and 4 we read this,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Ephesians 1:3-4

Brothers and sisters, the history of Christmas is eternal. It was always part of God’s plan. It existed in the mind of God and with God before anything else existed. In John 1, verses 1 to 5, which we often read at this time of year,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-5

And skipping to verse 14,

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The history of Christmas is eternal, Jesus, the light of the world. This is all about Jesus, and Jesus has been around since the dawn of time. There is a popular Christmas song from the 1970s that you often hear on the radio by Greg Lake, and it’s called, I Believe in Father Christmas. And there’s a verse which says this;

They sold me a dream of Christmas.
They sold me a silent night.
They told me a fairy story till I believed in the Israelite.

Christmas is more than a dream. Christmas is more than a song, and Christmas is definitely not a fairy tale. Christmas is Jesus, God with us.

Secondly, let’s not cancel the joy of Christmas. One of the things that Puritans hated was the raucous celebrations that accompanied the Christmas festival, and I’m sure, like me, you’ll have listened to many sermons in which you’re told Christmas isn’t about the tinsel, the lights, the feasting, the baubles, the presents, the Christmas trees, and watching Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life with a cup of cocoa on a sofa surrounded by your family. You know what? To me, it’s all about those things as I express my joy for the fact that Jesus is my salvation. Without Jesus, I would be lost. Jesus makes all things new. Jesus brings light in the darkness. He casts out all fear. Jesus is my healer. Jesus is my Redeemer. Jesus is my Savior and Lord. And you know what? If I can’t celebrate that with feasting, tinsel, lights, and wholesome Christmas films, that’s a travesty. I celebrate because of Jesus.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of the angels for a moment. Throughout the Bible, we find various references to angels. Mostly they appear singularly. Sometimes they appear in pairs. I think it was once at least that they appeared as a triple. But let’s read the account of Luke, and we’ve read it already this morning, in Luke 2, verses 8 to 14.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:8-12

Let’s just pause. Now imagine the scene. This is the angel who has been waiting for millennia, millennia to come and give the message to the shepherds. He was the one that was chosen. He was the one that was sent out to tell the shepherds what was going on. Imagine what he felt when he went on to declare that. And he said I am the one who has been chosen to bring this news. Then all of a sudden this happens.

A great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.

Luke 8:13-14

It’s almost like the others couldn’t help themselves. He was the one that was chosen, and he turns around and he finds all of the angels are out of heaven, praising God and giving glory for the fact that Jesus had been born. They all spill out of heaven into the sky in huge numbers and praise God. Never recorded before that they did that. Never recorded again. The joy just spilt out of heaven. Interestingly, we don’t know if they sang. It doesn’t say that they sang, but they were clearly all full of joy. Imagine the pent-up joy of millennia, knowing that this was planned from the foundation of the world, and now God’s plan was coming to fruition. Why shouldn’t they be joyful? Why shouldn’t they be joyful about Christmas? Let’s not cancel the joy of Christmas.

And finally, let’s not cancel the spirit of Christmas. I often think about what people are celebrating at this time of the year if they’ve got no relationship with Jesus. What are they celebrating? Who do they think they’re celebrating? It’s not like a birthday or a retirement or a wedding or a christening or even a wake after a funeral. They all have a focal point for the celebration, but what about Christmas if it’s not about Jesus? Without Jesus, Christmas is empty. Without Jesus, Christmas is meaningless. It’ll be like holding the coronation of Charles III for the third Carilion era on the 6th of May without the king being there! It’ll be like attending a wedding feast without the bride and groom, just meaningless. In Galatians 4 we read this,

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

God sent the spirit of his son into our hearts. That’s the spirit of Christmas. We’re no longer slaves to sin, but we are God’s children. That’s the reason for our celebrations. So let’s not cancel Christmas, the eternal history of Christmas. Let’s not cancel the joy of Christmas, and let’s not cancel the spirit of Christmas.

Now you might be saying, you know what George, Christmas means nothing to me. It’s just another day, just another season, just another waste of time and money. Let me encourage you, maybe for the very first time this Christmas, to look into the eyes of Jesus, promised since before the foundation of time itself, declared with a multitude of joyous angels and opening up for us a way of salvation, a hope, and a future. This Christmas could be the very first time that you truly understand its history, its joy, and its spirit. Don’t miss out.