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Have Yourself A Merry Cromwellian Christmas – AP

This weeks article in Australian Presbyterian 

It’s the Christmas month. Where is the tinsel? Trees? Light? Endless adverts? For UK exiles Christmas seems different in Australia – Turkey on the beach?!. It appears to this outsider that Christmas is not as big a deal here as in the Northern hemisphere – I guess it doesn’t feel a lot like Christmas.

Whilst in the UK headlines like ‘Boris Bans Christmas’, ‘Nicola Scrooge’ indicate a very different Christmas this year – it looks as though Australia will be largely Covid free and therefore a more ‘normal’ Christians will be enabled. It has even been announced this week that we will be able to visit the most remote city in the world – Perth WA.

But elsewhere politicians are not going to be too popular if they attempt to lockdown Christmas. If a year ago I had suggested to you that this Christmas there was a possibility that the UK government would ban Christmas parties, carol singing, Christmas services and big Turkey dinners, you would have thought I was either stark raving mad or guilty of some good old Puritanical, Cromwellian wishful thinking. After all was it not Cromwell who banned Christmas? Not quite….

On 19 December 1643, the English Parliament passed a law encouraging its citizens to treat the mid-winter period ‘with the more solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins, and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights’. From then until 1660 Christmas was actually illegal in England. In Scotland we banned it from 1640 until 1686. In fact Christmas was not a public holiday in Scotland until 1958 (unlike New Year) – Boxing Day in 1974. We can’t blame Cromwell for that.

I grew up in a community where we worked at Christmas – my dad was a farm labourer. Although we were a Christian household we did not really celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival – we had a tree, presents and of course the big dinner – but I don’t recall ever going to church on Christmas Day. When I became a Christian I think I shared Spurgeon’s view:

We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.

Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on Dec. 24, 1871

However as the years have gone on I find myself facing two ways! I have grown to love Christmas as a great time to reflect upon the incarnation and to communicate the Gospel. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see – hail the incarnate Deity. Yet I also loathe the commercialism, excess and ‘carnal and sensual delights’. Excessive drunkenness, as well as the declining popularity of the church, meant that the tradition of midnight Christmas carols, was already becoming less. Who knows, but Covid may have killed it off? In St Peter’s in Dundee I introduced a carol service and a Christmas day service – both were great opportunities for outreach and fellowship. I suspect McCheyne would not have approved.

But what about this year? In Sydney we are debating about whether we can go ahead with outdoor carol services and get over the ridiculous ban on singing. In the UK and the US I suspect the Covid hysteria will be ongoing and just when they need some Christmas cheer they will be reduced to what the Scottish Government is calling a ‘digital Christmas’. It won’t be long before the daily message from politicians includes the sickly message that Santa is not banned.

But perhaps we can give a different message? Perhaps churches can ‘reset’ so that we turn Christmas to what it should be – a celebration of the incarnate God. At a time when churches are being urged to be less incarnational we can proclaim the one who did not come ‘digitally’, nor did he die or rise ‘spiritually’. He came in the flesh. Pleased as man with man to dwell. A real baby, with real tears (crying he did make), in a real world where an unknown number of baby boys were killed in an attempt to get him. Real angels…real shepherds….a real star…and real glory. In a world that is governed by misery and fear we can bring ‘good news of great joy for all the people’.

We should be singing like the angels in the public square….we should be proclaiming Christ from the rooftops, in our pulpits and on our digital platforms. We should be looking at creative ways to engage church, children and community with the Gospel. Perhaps some will not be permitted to bring people to church – but is there any reason why we cannot go out – by whatever means possible – and, like the angels, take the good news of ‘glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men on whom his favour rests’? Instead of churches seeing Christmas as an exhausting burden of endless services, perhaps we can find a more sustainable way to use this time to proclaim and glorify Christ. Maybe even Cromwell would approve of that.

Christmas – Where is Jesus?

Was Churchill the Greatest Briton?

 

25 comments

  1. “we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour”

    Was Charles Spurgeon really serious? And the Scriptural warrant for saying we can’t do something because ‘we can find no Scriptural warrant’ is….? If we can’t do something unless we can find a ‘Scriptural warrant’ then there’s an awful lot of things that would have to be stopped.

    1. Spurgeon was referring to how we worship God. His argument was that we have no right to make up our own rules and we should worship God according to what he says – not man made rules. That is a position that is made clear throughout the whole of Scripture – “who has required this of you?”…it is also one taught by most the church fathers.

    2. So what is the scriptural warrant for observing the 25th December as the birth of Christ? I think I’ll side with Spurgeon, rather than the compromised, powerless church we have today.

  2. Perth, Western Australia is ‘the most remote city in the world’.

    Where in the world (yes, that was intentional) did you get that piece of misinformation?

      1. Err, no.

        It might be the most remote capital city. I have heard that before. But it is certainly not the most remote city.

  3. Here’s something for you to consider over this festive season, David.
    If god were really real we wouldn’t need a bible, prayer, or churches. Think about that

  4. The Regulative Principle I presume? It’s a good foundation against the excesses we see all over the church who take the opposite view … we can do it so long as it is not forbidden by Scripture. I think this was called the Normative Principle?

  5. Did Spurgeon have the same opinion of Easter? Pentecost? It seems entirely ridiculous that a serious Christian would tell other Christians they shouldn’t celebrate important events in the salvation story, just because they weren’t commanded to in scripture. We aren’t commanded to sing every Sunday, but I imagine he did that. Is that a superstition? I’m not even sure scripture commands us to meet every “Sunday.” Yes, we keep the sabbath holy but at the time of the new testament the sabbath hadn’t fully switched to Sunday for Christians. Is it superstition to meet every Sunday? Is it superstitious to give a long in depth sermon every Sunday?

    His hardline attitude reeks of anti-Catholic bigotry far more than it does loyalty to scripture in my opinion. I’m happy to celebrate the first and look to the next advent of our Lord each year; it brings great joy to my life and is not something that is forgotten outside of December. As an Anglican, I smile to Spurgeon as a brother in Christ, but find the above quote misguided.

    1. Thanks Carolina….I think he did have the same view of Easter – which he argued we celebrate every Lord’s Day. To be fair to him he wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t celebrate important events in the salvation story – just that we should not be limited to one made up day to celebrate them. We are commanded to sing when we gather for worship and we are commanded to worship on Sunday. His comment has nothing to do with anti-Catholic bigotry and again it is not fair to read into his comments what is not there. Maybe you kind of prove Spurgeons point when you suggest that advent is forgotten outside of December…?

      1. David, where did Carolina ‘suggest that advent is forgotten outside of December’? And where are we _commanded_ ‘to sing when we gather for worship and … to worship on Sunday’ (my emphasis)?

      2. Well, it may not be the actual day Christ was born (which we may never know until his next advent) but I hardly think “made up” is the right phrase. Augustine wrote in De Trinitate: “For [Christ] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day he also suffered; so the womb of the virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.” It’s not scripture, but Augustine is arguably the greatest, if not one of the greatest, western theologians ever and lived a lot closer to the time of the apostles than us.

        And yes, I do believe advent is forgotten outside of December (unfortunately), but that doesn’t mean those of us Christians who celebrate the “ecclesiastical arrangement” of advent and Christmas in December are “superstitious.” It assumes everyone only celebrates and remembers Christ’s coming in December. Well, in the Eucharistic liturgy I attend “we remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.” Therefore, we celebrate advent every Lord’s day. Maybe the second part of your post has been happening down through the ages and those that tried to stamp out Christmas in the past were wrong due there hatred of so-called “popish” rituals, and there is something good about holy traditions? In love.

  6. We had an outdoor carol service last Sunday afternoon and over 100 people attended. We are in tier one in Moray, Scotland. We checked with the police and the council and got approval from both. We usually have the carol service inside the Church but thanks to Covid throwing us a curve ball, we plan to have it outside in the park every year! Sure it’s cold but we’re Highlanders! I can’t say ‘we sang like angels’ but we sure gave it a try.

  7. Here on the Isle of Man we are free from any lockdown. No masks, no restrictions in church. By the grace of God this has allowed us to carry out our Christmas time evangelism of handing out tracts at the christmas market, leaflet drops. Over the next few weeks we will have our evangelistic Carol service and friends and neighbours Christmas evangelism event. We don’t see Christmas as a biblically ordained form of worship but it is a great opportunity to preach the Gospel and speak of Christ.

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