If I had £1 for every time someone said to me during December, "ooh, it must be a busy time for you," I could retire in luxury and drink cocktails all day long. (That's not something I *ever* dream of though...)
It's hard to know how to respond. It is busy, of course it is - this is 1 of the 2 'most important' points in the Christian calendar, and, of the 2, it's by far the most commercially and culturally popular, and therefore the busiest. But (as I've found myself saying often to people over the last few weeks), although I'm busy, it's "good busy" - I'm busy doing lots of fun things.
This week, for instance, among other things, I've made heaps of mince pies, had an 'open house' for church (eating said mince pies), watched a Y1/Y2 and an EYFS Christmas play, signed Christmas carols for a service in a special school, and had a pub night out with a local community group I'm part of. That's in addition to the 'normal', non-Christmas stuff such as planning weddings, baptisms and funerals, visiting people, and writing sermons - LOTS of sermons!
But it's brilliant, isn't it?! Why would I not love doing all that. Preparing for Christmas and Easter, and leading and preaching in church on those days, is right up there at the top of the list of "reasons I love my job". People who don't usually come to church turn up and I get to part of welcoming them in and telling them how much God loves them. That's never not going to be fun.
I don't want people to think I'm "busy", if being "busy" means stressed, or distracted, or 'haven't got time for you', or 'my job's more important than yours'. Mind you, it's perhaps better than that other favourite, £1-earning saying about vicars only working one day a week. Ha ha, how we all chuckled. Through gritted teeth... Although I suppose I do get that people find it very hard to imagine what vicars do actually do from Monday morning to Saturday evening.
I was once asked by a hairdresser what I did and when I told her, rather than looking blank, or saying "you don't look like a vicar," which is what I've come to expect in such conversations, she immediately beamed and said "oooh, that must be such a LOVELY job." I've wondered about that since. I wish I'd asked her what she meant, but I was so surprised that I didn't. It IS a lovely job, actually, but I don't think she meant it for the same reasons as I do. Maybe she thought I spent my whole day cuddling babies, or drinking tea and eating cake with old ladies.
Anyway, I've been thinking this week about the whole 'busyness' thing, specifically as it relates to Christmas, and to Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. Because one of the big dangers for clergy, or vicars, or ministers, or whatever you want to call us - and indeed for anyone whose job it is to 'do' Christmas in church - is that the whole thing will just become work instead of worship.
That's always a danger - the 'professionalisation' of church so that it becomes something we simply 'do'. I think, though, that it's even more of a danger at Christmas and Easter. We find ourselves dashing between carol services and home communions and toddler group parties. We have so many talks to write that we just dig out and dust off a few from previous years (*nothing wrong with sermon recycling every now and then by the way - as long as it doesn't become a way to avoid engaging with the Bible and what God is doing right here and now). We try to balance the church/work/personal, and something has to give - so either we have brilliant services but don't write any cards or buy any presents, and burn the roast dinner; or church is a bit pants but we go all Kirstie Allsopp and Mary Berry at home.
I really, really, don't want the joy and wonder and delight and excitement of leading a church at Christmas to become a chore. I don't want the awesome, incredible, beautiful, timeless story at the heart of it to become commonplace. I don't want the mindblowing privilege of telling people about Jesus - God's Son, come to earth as a tiny baby to be 'Emmanuel', God With Us - to become just another item on my to-do list.
Before I can do anything else at Christmas, before I can write the cards and wrap the presents and cook the food; and definitely before I can sing the songs and watch the plays and preach the story - I must first stop and be still and simply worship the God who loved me, you, us, enough to come into our world as one of us, to save us.
Here's a picture of our church Christmas tree after we'd decorated it to tell the whole story of Jesus (probably my highlight of Christmas every year):