Over the past week, I spent a few days in the United States of America. In America, they know how to do Christmas in style. Yes, I know, it’s not Christmastide and all that, but of course all the Christmas decorations are up, and every PA loudspeaker you encounter is belting out either Christmas carols (more likely than not as interpreted by Bing Crosby), or else 1950s Christmas-and-snowflakes-themed songs. And I don’t care whether that’s cool or not, but I like it, even a lot.
While in California I went to a local crafts market, and enjoyed the products on offer, and bought a few of them. But there was something that caught my eye in particular: a small business selling what I might call unusual greeting cards. The first one I saw had the following happy exclamation on the cover: “Here’s your f***ing Christmas card!” And the second continued with the theme: “Happy F***ing Holidays.”
Maybe I should have been scandalised, but in fact I burst out laughing and bought a few of both, already forming a plan as to who would be worthy recipients. At least one of them was a member of the clergy, by the way.
Of course I am not suggesting that we should move over to a rather coarser, or for that matter more cynical, view of the season of the Incarnation. But equally, the Incarnation is not some kind of celestial bubble wrap that protects us from the shocks and prods of “real life”. When God became man, God did not come into a world of sweet fairy tales, but into humanity as we know it with all its edginess.
Of course, we are now in Advent, a season in which to prepare and reflect. So whether your kind of Advent is the experience of quiet and penitential reflection, or the in-your-face call to repentance of John the Baptist, or joyful anticipation, it may be good to remember that the season that follows may have its harder edge for some people, and that our preparations should also anticipate that. I haven’t sent the cards after all, but as I write I am looking at one of them, and I find that it’s a useful aid to my spiritual life at this time of year. Just for once, at least.