Christmas Eve ~ Christmas Tweets
Let me take you back to 1843, the year Christmas was invented…
The first 2050 Christmas cards were landing on doormats. They had cost a shilling each, and had been sent using the Penny Post, introduced only three years earlier. Nowadays the stamp costs more than the card, but in 1843, the card was by far the more expensive part of the deal. Sir Henry Cole, a well known artist and designer of teapots, had been instrumental in the introduction of the Penny post, and soon he had the brilliant and lucrative idea of introducing Christmas cards. The one he sent to his Grandmother in 1843 sold at auction ten years ago for £22,500. That original card, by the way, did not show the Nativity or such like, but rather a Dickensian family, drinking wine together. And indeed, only a few days after Cole’s Christmas Card launch, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published for the first time – on December 17th 1843. That’s why I say that Christmas was invented in December 1843 – Christmas Cards, and A Christmas Carol were both unleashed upon us in the same week. And Christmas Trees were also beginning to catch on, having being introduced by Prince Albert 2 years earlier in 1841.
And we still celebrate Christmas in similar fashion. We still have Christmas Cards, and a tree all done up with baubles and lights. The lights, incidentally, date back to the first Christmas trees, to which lit candles were attached using melted wax or pins. Around 1890, not only were candle-holders introduced, but the first mass-produced electric Christmas Tree lights went on sale. In 1882, A certain Edward Johnson, friend and employee of Thomas Eddison, lit up a tree in New York with 80 electric lights, but it wasn’t really safe to have electric lights on trees until 1917, when they were improved after a tragedy, also in New York. And then the Carols: Back in 1843, ‘God Rest ye merry Gentlemen’, ‘The First Nowell’, ‘I saw Three Ships’ and ‘Hark the herald’ were the latest hits, while ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘It came upon the Midnight Clear’ and ‘O Holy Night’, were soon to be written. Before the 1840s then, it is fair to say, it was Christmas, but not was we know it.
For Christmas as we now know it, is the product of industrialization and technology. Just imagine what Christmas would be like today without electricity, colour printing, chainsaws and gramophones! And some of us can remember what Christmas was like before the advent of ipads, smartphones and e-cards.
This year it was possible to have updates of the Christmas Story sent by text or email to one’s phone or computer – each day, at varying intervals, I received a text from Premier Christian Radio, moving the story on, in real time, as it were, over several days. It’s still going on – it’s not over yet, as they say. You can still sign up for it, or, if you are really clued up, you can follow Mary and Joseph as a twitter feed. It’s called ‘The Christmas Experience’ if you want to check it out.
Those brief texts make for a very succinct summary of the Nativity story, told, as it were from inside the heads of Mary and Joseph. My favourite ones are, as from Mary:
Something’s happening - What's going on? - I'm afraid - I'm blessed - I can feel God's warmth deep inside me
And then a bit later on she says:
It’s becoming clear, it’s huge, the baby changes everything - bankers overturned, poor get their day. I’m the Son of God’s Mum!
Such is the Christmas Story as presented in the twittersphere. Some festive tweets, as one might say. And if you want a youtube video treat when you get home, just type in ‘If Jesus were born in times of Google, Facebook and Twitter’ – it’s very good indeed. You can access them both via this Church’s twitter feed at @stmarysenfield. Oh yes, we’re on Twitter now too.
What’s very interesting about all this kind of thing is, that as is normal in that small-scale but vast world of contemporary communication, everything is pared down. A lot has been left out, it’s probably fair to say. There are no lights, baubles or decorations on this version of the story. Which is ironic, since, as we have seen, we have spent the last two centuries piling it on thick on Christmas. So much so, that the real message or meaning has to be excavated from underneath a thick layer of wrapping paper, tinsel, Christmas Pud and sherry. Every year we have to do a bit of archeology to rediscover what the Christmas message is all about.
And every year, there are things going on around us that bring the true meaning of Christmas into sharp focus. Sometimes, it’s predictable – every year there are wars, revolutions, crimes and tragedies to point to, which themselves point us very clearly to a world in need of the redeeming love of God and the laser light of Christ to burn away evil, sin and grief. Every Christmas, there are folk – both a Queen, and a near neighbour watching beside a bed of pain. Others grieve or are reminded of lost loved ones from recent or distant past. Christmas Day is just one of 365 days in a year, and so, as such, is a day, like any other, on which people suffer and die. Last year, you will remember, the Christmas News was full of a murder story in Bristol. This year Prince Philip is not very well, but there are also families devastated by sad news from Afghanistan, just as there have been for the last ten years.
But Christmas Day is also a day on which folk are born. Strange that… It’s a day of hope – of good news. And sometimes we have to excavate that from under the news headlines. The Sun Newspaper, a week or so back, went to town over an incident at a Nativity Play in the North East. There was, to put it mildly, a bit of an affray in the Manger – two fathers got into an altercation, in which one bit off the finger of another. You wouldn’t credit it. Not a Christmas Crunch like that… The newspaper’s reaction was to create a list of ‘best carols for a fight’, of which ‘Affray in a Manger’ topped the list. Other inspirations included ‘The Fist Nowell’, ‘Silent Bite’, and ‘God arrest ye merry gentlemen’. I’m sure Charles Dickens – if not Queen Victoria, would be amused. And of course we laugh – if we didn’t we’d cry. Fights happen – and yes they happen at Christmas too. The world into which Jesus Christ was born, hasn’t actually changed much. Tears and smiles, like us he knew.
So whether we have Christmas Trees, lights and presents; cards, tinsel, sherry and pudding, or whether we tweet away, send e-greetings cards and record all the Christmas Specials to watch sometime in March when we finally have time - whatever we do, doesn’t really matter, nor does it make much difference. It doesn’t matter what we do to Christmas.
What matters is what Christmas does to us. What matters is what this good news of a birth two thousand years ago does to us internally. Do we, like Mary, feel God’s warmth inside us?
2000 years of sin and strife cannot cloud the love song of God, which here and now we hear again as we remember our Lord’s incarnation on this most Holy of nights. And what matters is how we receive that good news – the gospel of love and freedom, of peace and salvation. And having received it: that warmth drawn into the hearths of our hearts, then what matters is how we live.
Don’t ‘do’ Christmas – live it. And live it not only today, but every day. For just as Christmas could be any day in terms of what goes on in the world – any day could be Christmas. Indeed, every day is Christmas Day. Every day is a day for hope, and love and peace. God isn’t just for Christmas. For the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
So may your Christmas last all year, and may the gift of God’s presence warm your heart, this night, and always.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 24/12/11