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Christmas reflections from the Theos team, 2022

Christmas reflections from the Theos team, 2022

A selection of short reflections written ahead of Christmas 2022 by members of the Theos team. 20/12/2022

A Spider’s Tale 

At the back of my mind is the memory of being told about a spider’s significance at Christmas. It was even brought up in The Archers at the end of last month on discussion of Nativity Plays.   

It turns out there is a Ukrainian folk tale about a spider who spins beautiful webs in an otherwise bare Christmas tree, to give thanks to the family who provided the insect with warmth as it watched from the corner of a room. The family is poor and when they awake on Christmas morning, the light from the sun makes the webs look like jewels hanging from the branches (it is said this is how tinsel began). The spider had created far more for them than just a web. 

Another ancient tale talks of a spider who spun its web across the opening of a cave where Mary and Joseph sheltered with Jesus on route to Egypt, as they fled King Herod and his henchmen. The web provided a hidden yet strong and protective shield to their hiding place.  

Nothing about Christ’s birth is sparkling or excessive. It’s the complete opposite, contending with muck, darkness, uncertainty and fear of those in power. Sound familiar? Not a lot has changed in what we call civilised society. 

The silent but observant spider came in handy for the Holy Family born into fear, and its meek web enabled illumination for the Ukrainian family when they least expected it. A spider is small, fragile even, but no less mighty – it sheltered and enabled others. It hides but has much to offer when the moment calls and plays a full part in the narrative of both the Ukrainian family’s joy and the survival of the Holy Family.  

I had dismissed the spider and forgot its presence. There are many forgotten people. War, poverty, and geographic location push people into the shadows – we lose them and all that they have to offer. As we look around this Christmas and become caught up in the hype, we should remember that this is not ‘it’. Christmas instead should be an equaliser, where we affirm the fragile and do better for those we have made unseen and forgotten. 

Anna Wheeler 

A weary world rejoices 

I don’t feel ready for Christmas. I haven’t managed to write any Christmas cards. I missed Stir–It Up Sunday, so there will be no Christmas cake. There is much work still to be done, many presents still to buy. We have at least managed to put the tree up, and this morning I have dressed my baby in a Father Christmas baby grow in an attempt to muster up a sense of festive spirit.  

I’ve been aware this year of the act of turning on the Christmas tree lights each morning. The moment when the coldness and darkness is hit with a burst of artificial light. These twinkling spheres don’t hold a flame to the flickering light of the Advent candles at church. A forced sense of fake happiness versus the pure light of eternal hope, perhaps.  

But there’s power in the intention. To light up the darkness even though we might not feel in the least bit Christmassy.  

This year, I have been coming back to the word weltschmerz – the German word that describes that feeling familiar to many of us of ‘world pain’ or world–weariness.  The realisation that really awful things happen in the world; a deep and great, yet lingering sadness. This week, I’ve felt it in the tragedy of hearing of four little boys in Solihull who died in a frozen lake; and of another four desperate people who died crossing in a migrant boat on the freezing English Channel. These are tragedies too unimaginable to try to comprehend, too dark to be lit up with fake fairy lights.  

Perhaps, however, switching on the light can be my little act of rebellion; willing myself to pierce the darkness with something. It’s a mere and insufficient reflection of the life that was the Light of all humankind. A small and intentional moment to counter the world–weariness. 

This year, I’ll find defiant hope again in the rebellious words of O Holy Night: a weary world rejoices.  

Chine McDonald 

Peace has a name 

What a year!  

The war in Ukraine, which started in February, is still – alas – on–going. It has brought about untold devastation and forced millions of Ukrainians to abandon their homes. The war has also spelled economic disruption in Europe, as the price of energy has soared, pushing up inflation, and creating a cost of living crisis that is hitting hard. At the same time, national politics in the UK has been, frankly, a cringeworthy farce. Serious, responsible, moral leadership has yet again been lacking. All the while, and although it has dropped from our attention, the climate crisis is getting worse.  

If all this has been happening ‘out there’, in the world, what about what’s been going on inside, in our hearts? Many of us struggle with anxiety and depression. We’re often overwhelmed, constantly distracted, and perpetually restless. Deep down, we long for peace: peace in our world and peace within.   

 “For to us a child is born, 

    to us a son is given, 

    and the government will be on his shoulders. 

And he will be called 

    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, 

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Of the greatness of his government and peace 

    there will be no end.”  

(Isaiah 9:6–7) 

‘Prince of Peace’ sounds nice, vaguely reassuring, but also somewhat remote or, worse still, Disney–esque. But if you dig a little deeper, the Hebrew word translated as ‘prince’ (sar) is not, in fact, a reference to royalty – privileged and aloof.  

Rather, it carries distinct military meaning.1 Indeed, within the narrative arc of the Bible, the ‘child that was born’, the ‘Son given’ is – as strange as it may sound – the Commander of Peace, which is a baffling mix of metaphors! But in the logic of the Gospel, the ‘true myth’ at the heart of Christianity, as C. S. Lewis put it, it works because the birth of Jesus is God’s declaration of war against all that destroys the world and breaks our hearts, in order to bring in deep, lasting peace, within and without. 

But until, in the end, ‘all shall be well’ and peace shall prevail, the message of Christmas is that this promised peace is available in the here and now. It’s real, not an illusion. It’s reliable, not a fleeting feeling or a fragile ceasefire. It’s not tied up with a magical place on holiday that you eventually have to leave behind. 

Peace that is found in plenty and poverty, on the peaks and in the dark valleys of life is always at hand, because peace is first and foremost a person. Peace has a name: Jesus. 

Nathan Mladin 

Timeless Wonder 

Christmas used to be so much more fun when we were younger… Happiness came to us, we didn’t have to look for it, we didn’t have to purchase it, we didn’t have to envy it.  

Year after year, there is a lingering nostalgia for a loosely time–bound Christmas season. Each Christmas past is in an unfair competition with every Christmas future. It is in fact the tendency of the human mind to anchor our thoughts to the familiar and, sometimes, to paint the past with gleaming colours.  

“Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). 

Laudator temporis acti is the phrase that captures this attitude. The Latin phrase translates as ‘He who praises the past’; one who looks at the past as better times, as though it were an unattainable Golden Age. The line is from the Ars Poetica (ca. 19 B.C), a guide for emerging poets that the Roman satirist and poet Horace wrote in the form of a letter to senator Piso and his sons. In the passage, Horace speaks of how we assume a colder pose as we age. He specifically addresses ‘an old man’, but many of us, disapprovingly old or not, indeed become “pessimist[s], without energy, greedy for the future, / surly, quick to complain, always praising the past”.  

What is rendered as ‘pessimist’ in translation, in the original text is ‘spe longus’, meaning ‘far from hope’. 

But in the midst of fervid red fabrics, soothing green plants, white snow, luxurious gold, and silver ribbons, can we spot the pessimist, the hopeless?  

There is no need to look afar. They are among us: they are you and me trying to momentarily forget that we are at the frontier of a lapsing year and a capricious new one. And Christmas becomes the tune that lulls us away from our pressures, carol after carol. 

But the irony and beauty of Christmas is that the child we sing to is the one who calms us. As one popular Christmas song puts it: “That sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I Am.” 

Familiarity and wonder as one: a serene assurance that what was, is. God is here, with us – Emmanuel.  

Wendy Appenteng Daniels 


The Gospel in Tinsel 

I have been lucky enough to avoid most of the Christmas productions at my children’s primary school. From the sample of those I have not been able to swerve, I can tell that the teachers are caught between the rock of Christmas children’s (and parents’) seasonally hyped expectations, and the hard place of the fact that the school must recognize the diversity of the school population.  

The result, predictably, is a Christmas of the sentimental–Americanised–commercial kind. No–one is detained by the theological claims of the season. Think of those Christmas classics – White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – all famously written by Jewish composers. The whole content of Christmas can be taken out and replaced with stuff devoid of the metaphysical. 

This year’s offering was called, simply, ‘A Winter Concert’. It consisted of of children reading (and they were reading, the lines projected on the back wall) what honestly seemed to be Wikipedia entries of Christmas traditions from different parts of the world, interspersed by largely secular songs. First up, we learnt that in Japan, Christmas is celebrated with no reference to the incarnation. We were then treated to a (very good) rendition of Sleigh Ride. Then another four or five rounds of the same. ‘A Winter Concert’ didn’t quite ignore the fact that in Nigeria, Ghana, Mexico and Ukraine the Christmas celebrations would be primarily religious, but the Japan thing seemed to be the effective headline. 

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t envy the challenge of holding things together. “It’s not a Christmas party, it’s just a party! She can come!”, I heard my own son’s teacher tell an apparently worried parent in the line at the start of the day. It’s not malice – in fact, it’s kindness.     

And yet, there is something about Christmas that resists secularization. I’m not sure how, but We Three Kings got in to ‘A Winter Concert’. I was left asking myself what the children made of the lyrics.  

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume 
  breathes a life of gathering gloom; 
  sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, 
  sealed in the stone–cold tomb. 

Glorious now behold him arise; 
  King and God and sacrifice: 
  Alleluia, Alleluia, 
  sounds through the earth and skies.

It seemed right somehow that these theologically dense words were buried amongst so much which seemed more suitable, more festive. The gospel, incarnate in cheap tinsel.   

Paul Bickley 



Different cultures around the world have different explanations for the giving of gifts during Christmastide. For example, some cultures give gifts in memory of St Nicholas, who secretly gave gold to cover the dowries of the daughters of the poor. In other cultures – in Spain, Italy, and Mexico – the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January is the traditional day to give gifts.  

The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the ‘manifestation’ (epiphany) of Christ to the Nations (Gentiles) in the persons of the Magi (often known as the Wise Men or the Three Kings). It is a celebration of the Magi paying homage to the king of the Jews, the one who will be the king of the nations. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  

As Pope Francis reminds us, “Indeed, the Magi go to the Lord not to receive, but to give. Let us ask ourselves this question: at Christmas did we bring gifts to Jesus for his party, or did we only exchange gifts among ourselves?” 

The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the Magi can symbolise gifts we can offer to Jesus this Christmas. We could offer ‘gold’ through honouring and worshiping God as the highest of all authority in heaven and on earth. We could bring ‘frankincense’ in the form of praying more as the smoke of incense symbolises the prayers of the faithful ascending to heaven. And we could offer ‘myrrh’ symbolising caring for those dying, suffering or disadvantaged. 

So, will you only give gifts to each other this Christmas, or will you offer gifts to the king of the nations?  

Marianne Rozario 

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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.


Posted 20 December 2022



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