Jane Williams: On Christmas Decorations

Jane Williams

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
Genesis 1:1-3

“…God is a very generous artist, letting us share in creation and add our own touches. Some of them are not bad, and some of them are simply dreadful. Sometimes in our efforts to help God with the decorating we are like over-eager children, wanting to hang all the brightest lights in one clump to make a dazzling show, forgetting that will Jacopo Zucchi: Allegory of Creationleave other places in shabby darkness. Or we get suddenly spoiled, or over-tired, and rip all the decorations down and throw them on the floor because we cannot get them just right. Very occasionally we catch a glimpse of what God might see and add a touch that is genuinely in harmony with the divine plan. Either way, God does not surreptitiously take down what we have done and rearrange it to fit the divine vision. Instead, God lives with what we are doing and works around it, decorating over and under it, gradually finding ways to build it into the whole it was intended to be.

We may not be so generous, but that is because we are not so creative. Our temptation, when faced with so much of what we have made of the world, is to pull it all down and start again. But that demonstrates out lack of confidence. Most of the visionaries, when they talk about God’s coming, can just begin to imagine how God will be able to transform the world into something recognizably the same and yet astonishingly different…

Federico Barocci: The Nativity…This is exactly what God does at Christmas. God takes all the materials that are already there and makes something completely new, that we could never have imagined, because we simply do not have God’s creativity. Coming to save the world, God doesn’t look at it with despair that it would seem to deserve, scrumple it up and decide to start again, making a world peopled with less troublesome creatures this time. Instead God uses the most ordinary thing imaginable, the birth of a baby, to transform everything. In an ingenious little twist, instead of being born into an already existing family, this child will create a new one. From now on, whoever is part of the family of this child is part of God’s new transformed family and God’s new, vivid world…

…Our Christmas decorations may never quite have the power and dynamism of God’s but we can make them part of our conscious decision to live in God’s world as people who can join in with the activity of its maker. We can hang up our decorations, year by year, to celebrate with joy the creation and recreation of the world. And when we take the decorations down again to put them away for another year, we can continue to live in the world that God decorates for us, and be part of the ongoing work of creation and recreation. We know we don’t have to be anything special to join in on what God was is doing. No one who took part in the first Christmas story was famous for anything else at all. We can look at the world, eagerly watching for God’s work, appreciating what is there, and knowing that it is still in progress and we are part of it; but knowing, too, that it is not our creation but God’s. If we come to our world seeing both its freshness and its eternity, we may begin to bring to it, day by day, the awed joy that we bring to the temporary lights and candles of Christmas…

…God, the generous artist at work, achieves things beyond our comprehension, and yet invites our participation and pleasure, both at Christmas and forever.”

An excerpt from Approaching Christmas, Chapter 3: Decorations (pp42-49), reflecting on Genesis 1, Isaiah 35 and the Christmas story. Images from wiki commons, corresponding to those Jane Williams uses with her text.