Is it Christmas yet?
By Sammy Jordan Project Lead HOPE For Every Home
If I’m honest, I find November hard. It’s the month after the clocks have changed, so it’s dark earlier in the evening and definitely by the time I finish work. It’s the month after the half term break, and it’s dark, cold and wet…but it’s not Christmas. Lots of frantic work preparing for Christmas, of course, but we have to wait for December for all the best bits!
The start of November always feels like a very dark time to me. Physical darkness as days shorten parallels the spiritual darkness following Halloween. Then, there’s the emotional darkness from remembering lost loved ones and the horrors of war with All Souls, All Saints and Remembrance Days. In many ways it’s healthy to have this time to lament before we journey into Advent and Christmas; but it’s hard, nonetheless. I find myself grieving the loss of summer, the loss of light and, of course, the loss of people. It’s my Dad’s birthday at the end of November - the day before mine in fact. He died in 2020 and perhaps I subconsciously sense it coming.
On the new estate where I live, we try to use this ‘low’ November season to intentionally create spaces for lament. After offering supper on our driveways to feed and chat to ‘Trick or Treating’ families in October, November becomes about offering opportunities for reflection around Remembrance Day, both in the church and in the community. We have a community war memorial, which is widely respected - even the road names of the new estate are linked to the names on the war shrine. It’s a talking point in the community and people who might not normally join in with Remembrance do so, because of the connection with their road. This year we have created a poppy trail for people to follow around the estate, with knitted poppies decorating the street signs, and families’ chalk poppies decorating pavements as they walk.
Mid-November feels like no man’s land. We’ve moved on from Remembrance but it’s too early to put the Christmas tree up…or is it? During lockdown, when we were allowed only one outdoor venture per day (remember that?!), I often walked through the local estates with neighbours after work. As I looked around the different homes, with Christmas lights shining and inflatable Santas dancing, it seemed as though some people just couldn’t wait. It might only be mid-November, but some homes were already full of Christmas spirit and raring to go!
But why do we go early with Christmas? Why are we so keen to put a Christmas tree up, get the baubles out and hang the lights up? This is the question our new Advent resource seeks to answer. ‘Countdown to Christmas Hope’ is a daily, interactive Advent journey for those interested in exploring faith. It suggests that we go early for Christmas because in a world full of bad news, we want to look forward to something, we want hope. Even if we’re not a Christian, Christmas is something to look forward to. ‘Countdown to Christmas Hope’ explores the hope of Christmas through daily thoughts, song links, prayers, puzzles, video testimonies, and festive things to make and do. As the reader journeys through Advent, they are introduced to the hope found in Jesus, the Light of the world. Jesus, Emmanuel, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, born to sort out the mess, our sin, that can make the world feel dark…and hopeless.
‘Countdown to Christmas Hope’ is designed to be given out in a personal way, hand to hand, as a follow up to conversations about faith. It encourages a relationship or at least a link between the recipient and the giver, and there's even a page for individuals and churches to fill in their contact details to keep in touch. Helping the reader feel connected is an important value woven throughout the resource. For example, when people have put up their Christmas tree and hung their lights in response to a daily challenge, they can post a photo to the ‘Countdown to Christmas Hope’ Facebook page. Our hope is that this page will gather momentum and followers, connecting people to a community who are on the same Advent journey exploring the hope of Christmas, together.
If you are looking for a faith conversation starter to go ‘door to door’ rather than ‘hand to hand’ then our Christmas magazine, ‘Hope at Christmas’ is for you. With celebrity features that gently build a bridge to faith, it’s a great conversation starter.
Perhaps you have friends who are planning on seeing the new Marvel film ‘Wakanda Forever’ this month? Why not offer them the Hope at Christmas magazine - it has a great feature on lead actor, Letitia Wright.
Or perhaps like me, you have football-mad neighbours? If so, you might be able to use the feature about Gareth Southgate and the England team in the lead up to the upcoming World Cup as a conversation starter.
Many of us were touched by the life of Dame Deborah James who died from bowel cancer earlier this year. If you are in conversations with people who are lamenting their losses and anticipating a Christmas without loved ones, then the feature on Dame Debs and the information on The Bereavement Journey Course could be a helpful ‘way in’.
All these ‘conversation starters’ highlight just how significant the season leading up to Christmas can be for evangelism. It’s a massive missional moment! I wonder whether this year it’s an even bigger opportunity, because of the death of the Queen in September. I certainly had many more conversations with my neighbours about church and faith around the time of the Queen’s death and funeral. With the Queen’s passing being covered in the news around the world and the funeral service being broadcast on television, faith was much more visible than usual. The language of faith inevitably seeped into conversations. So, as we anticipate a speech from our new King this Christmas, perhaps there will be opportunities to share about the birth of the King of Kings, the Saviour of our world. After all, 'tis the reason for the season!
Speaking of Jesus, the Saviour... ‘Jesus to the Rescue’ is our retelling of the Christmas story aimed at under 5’s and their families. Using Happyland toys from the Early Learning Centre, ‘Jesus to the Rescue’ explains why God’s plan to rescue the broken world involved a baby in a nappy rather than big muscly action figures in superhero capes! With a free animation, action song, all age resource and toddler group ideas (thanks to Bible Buds), it’s the perfect way to share the hope of Christmas with young families.
So, as you gear up for dark nights, Remembrance and all that Christmas preparation, we want to point you to the hope we have in Jesus and support you to share the good news.
This November, let’s not take on the ‘Is it Christmas yet?’ mentality, but instead embrace the month ahead and expect God to do great things in us, through us and around us.
All the resources that have been mentioned here are available from our Hope shop www.hopetogether.org.uk/shop
Countdown to Christmas Hope is £1 for 1-9 copies and 50p for 10+ copies
Hope at Christmas Magazine is 12p per copy
Jesus to the Rescue Under 5's book is £2 or£1 for 20+ copies
If you share these resources with friends and neighbours and they spark a conversation, we’d love to hear about it. Please contact me Sammy.firstname.lastname@example.org