This week, my snow-locked tedium is relieved by the enthusiasm of the P4’s and P5’s (3rd & 4th Graders, for those further afield) as they get ready for Christmas. It’s their turn to help plan and lead the Christmas Service, and between that and the carol singing and the school nativity play, the school is buzzing with festive cheer.
Yesterday, we were laying the groundwork for a service on the symbols of Christmas. They’ve been looking at religious symbols all term, so it’s a natural jump in the midst of a busy season. So I talked a bit about symbols having meaning — symbols connecting people across time and space — and I shared both the story of, and the terrible violence done to, the symbol of the Glastonbury Thorn.
Then it was their turn. 30 seconds to list as many Christmas Symbols as possible. 30 seconds more to try to think of something that no-one else would come up with. Then — assisted by a young girl who was superb with whiteboard and keyboard — we made big lists of the Christmas symbols:
and even (in the ‘unique’ category)
- the Christmas troll on the tree
I tried to invite everyone to share at least one symbol — though sometimes, ‘one’ turned into as-many-words-as-I-can-say-in-one-breath-really-fast-so-that-nothing-gets-missed. And therefore, we were doing some sifting: choosing what to write down, what to hold onto.
Then it happened. A little girl said, ‘Cross’. But she said ‘cross-and-star-and-baby-Jesus’ . And I said ‘how about we stick with Baby Jesus. The cross is good too, but maybe we can leave that for Easter. Christianity doesn’t always have to be about the cross.’ And on we went to candy-canes-baubles-robins-ice-skating…’
But I wonder what the ripples of that throw away remark will be. Did any of them go home and say, ‘Kimberly said that Christianity doesn’t always have to be about the cross?’ And if they did, did their parents think, ‘Oh, thank God!’ or would they have thought, ‘Dangerous… heretical.. let’s call the bishop!’
(In truth, I suspect no one thought about it at all. For everyone else, what we said about stars and snowflakes and winter-blossoming thorn was much more important.)
But I realise it is a pretty basic area of tension between different expressions of Christianity around the world. Is is always about the cross? or is the manger enough, sometimes?
In the end, I suppose we can’t separate the two — but for me (thanks, no doubt, to Lossky) Incarnation is also salvific; and we can leave the other images for other times.
And for those who disagree? We’ll, they’ve still got the robin; and the holly.