Everyone expects this time of year to be happy and joyous and peaceful. Unfortunately if you believed the faces of those I saw out shopping today it will be anything but...
Working in Bluewater, I often refer to this time of the year as the silly season. A time when, in the words of the retailers, those in retail go into a state of functional hibernation. It's a bit like mammals that hibernate for winter except, instead of sleeping, they bury themselves in what is the most important time of the year for them: Christmas and then the sales. They will emerge in January to the cold light of winter: blinking, exhausted and probably coming down off the huge amount of caffiene and other stimulants used to keep them going during the silly season. Their children will start to call them Uncle or Aunty because they never see them and the strain on partners and spouses will cause the one day they will have off to most probably be spent bickering. They will lose their patience with customers (The best can do it and you will never know) and shout at the delivery man because the essential item, head office want them to push, isn't in the delivery again and the customers (You, I and people we love and care about) are complaining because the latest Playbox 1 with the catchy colour and voice control isn't on the shelf.
And it's not just retail staff. The young person sitting in the booth selling the gift vouchers and cards will look at the thousands of people queuing for pieces of plastic in a small envelope and start to see you all as a number and a step towards a target. They will be polite and courteous, not because they care but because they did the customer service training and if they didn't they are temporary staff anyway and can fired on a moments notice.
The cleaners will be rushed off their feet, security will be fraught and managers will be under immense pressure to meet and exceed targets. Still the time of peace? In the words of the immortal Bart Simpson : "I don't think so."
You may be reading this thinking that like thousands of others you are losing the will to live. My wife has told me to stop being cynical and I agree it is very cynical unfortunately it also true because for many people this is what Christmas is. As opposed to what it should be: a time of silliness and joy.
Why a time silliness? God uses the foolish to confound the wise and the weak to confound the strong. Can you imagine what the angels thought when they heard what God was going to do at Christmas. I'm sure at least one of them sidled up to The Son and went "Isn't this simply silliness and madness. You in the form of a baby?" Maybe not but I'm sure they thought it.
And yet in spite of it, the owner of hands that flung stars into space (to borrow a line from Graham Kendrick) emptied himself of all his divinity into a tiny squalling baby. Immanuel was born. No one saw that coming.
The absurdity of it all and the significance of "God with us" is making me smile, laugh and cry at the same time and I am feeling very silly as a result. I am genuinely looking forward to Christmas day. I can't wait to celebrate with family and friends and join in with the joy and happiness that comes with sharing and being together. Because that's what Christmas should be: A time when we celebrate the silliness together of our God who did something so phenomenally outrageous it could only have been thought of by Him.
This Christmas bear a thought and a prayer for the frazzled staff working so hard to ensure we can celebrate the silliness of our God.
Peace and goodwill to everyone