The Smell of Christmas


Luke 2:7-8  ‘The Smell of Christmas’

What is the smell of Christmas to you?

For the smell of Christmas, we can only go to certain places in the Bible.

We would think the obvious place is the Gospels.

Well, Bingo! in Matthew and Luke;

But not a wiff in Mark and John.


Maybe Paul will write something about Jesus coming as a baby…, no. Nothing!

Even Revelation starts with the Cosmic Christ walking among the stars;

but nothing of the earthling Jesus lying among the animals.


Oh wait….I hear Christmas carol…..

Maybe ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ can help us…

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.


Oh this one irks me!  It really ruffles my feathers!

The writer Cecil Alexander must have been having a brain freeze.

There is something quite wiffy about this part of his song….

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,

Where on this tiny rice crisp of a planet did he get that from?

There is only one recorded instance of Jesus as a child, after the flight to and from Egypt.  In fact he was 12, and in the first century, on the cusp of manhood.

Luke 2:41-50 tells us Joseph and Mary journeyed home for a whole day before they realized the 12 year old Jesus was not with them.

When they find him back in Jerusalem (that’s two  days on the road not knowing where he is), in the Temple discussing theology with the professors and doctors, they chide him for “treating them [badly v.48]”.  I mean, where did he sleep; what did he eat; who was he with?  Who provided these things?

Jesus tells them v.49:  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?”  But they did not understand

Thus the line in the Carol that goes:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Really gets my goat!

What manipulative Victorian manure….

Which brings me back to the question:  What is the smell of Christmas?

Maybe ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ will help us!

Silent night, holy night…… 50% right!

How can screaming birthing mothers, animals in a barn, noisy neighbours and choirs of angels singing to shepherds possibly be silent!

Everything about this would freak us out if it happened to us.

But it’s been softened, smoothed, glossed, abstracted and sentimentalized.

Birthing mothers are not silent.

I’ve attended 4 births…… own three……and of course, my own!

My first words were:  “What’s wrong mum?  Why are you screaming and why has dad fainted?”  Not bad for a 10 second old baby!

Animals don’t respect human social conventions.

They can’t read; They weren’t there when the angel told Mary she would have a son.

They might have thought it was ‘a bit odd’ that big humans were releasing little humans into the barn, but other than that, their toilet habits (for example), would have remained the same.

But we really must avoid this blandness that doesn’t reflect human reality, and therefore, biblical reality.

We need to defy the fantasy makers.

Not just out there in a culture that would see you spend so much in December it wouldn’t even care if your home got re-possessed in January.9780802841285

That’s why credit cards really should be called debt cards.  It’s words; words; words.

And defying the fantasy makers is why one theologian (Don Cupitt) has famously  called Christmas:  “The Disneyfication of Christianity.” (NB. At least he got that right amidst a whole career of re-imagining Christianity in the extreme.  Anthony Thiselton has a masterful couple of chapters in response to Cupitt’s theological vision in Interpreting God and the Postmodern self….but I digress…).


Maybe Cupitt’s phrase inspired the song ‘One God’ by the pop group The Beautiful South in the late 1990’s (or maybe vice-versa), with their prophetically provocative lyrics:

d658e184c2e606511c1a788a89427ade-800x800x1The world is turning Disney and there’s nothing you can do
You’re trying to walk like giants
But you’re wearing Pluto’s shoes

And the answers fall easier from the barrel of a gun
Than it does from the lips of the beautiful and the dumb
The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun
With Coca Cola clouds behind a Big Mac sun


But the coming of Christ is the defying of the fantasy makers.

All this stuff of Coca Cola clouds and Big Mac suns is all corporate Bull……sh-which brings me onto my other point……

When the reality of Christ, and the Gospel and the Kingdom of God has been hijacked by a Clowns and Big Macs and fizzy drinks..….with the threat that we really must all have a good time, we insist…!

This is about the unreality of the reality;

We can’t get rid of the truth, but we can make the truth look different.

We can’t get rid of Jesus, but we can make him look irrelevant.

We can’t get rid of the Bible, but we can make it look a bit lame.


It leads to what singer Katie Perry in her recent pop ditty called ‘Roar’ says:maxresdefault

“I stood for nothing, which is why I fell for everything.”

I don’t know why Ms Perry stood for nothing.

Maybe it was laziness; maybe ignorance; maybe fear.

All three but especially fear is quite common to a lot of us.

Recently on Radio 4 I heard wonderful Rabbi – he was just talking about his life n’stuff, and he said something that stopped me in my tracks (even though I was doing [exactly] 71 mph down the M5.

“Through fear we mug our aspirations.”

I would add, “Through fear, we also mug God’s aspirations for us!”


Why else would Jesus say, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” (Lk 10:2).

Not because God doesn’t call enough, but because the ones called are buying into the laziness; ignorance and fear of what it means to be human.  This unholy trinity actually serve to de-humanise us.

My friend Joe Haward writes in his forthcoming book, The Ghost of Perfection, 14955812_1143589665678244_6967652820984551077_n

“…our goal (as humanity) is to become more human, casting off the destructiveness that mars this image (of God) within us.”

Laziness, ignorance and fear towards God are destructions to our humanity that do exactly that.  It is the Holy Trinity that saves us from this bad smelling nonsense!

Beloved:  We are always in danger of being sold a cheap version and vision of being human.  Don’t let fear mug you of yours or especially God’s aspirations for you!

To use John Major’s quote from a speech he made last week:  Don’t let the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’ rob you of your God-given image and place in this world.

When Jesus was ignoring his parents, knowing they would be frantic with worry and all that, he wasn’t talking niceties with the professors of theology!  He was talking Truth and Bible and History and Promise and Hope and Joy and Kingdom and Messiah and Isaiah.  He was talking about sacrifice and prophets and priests and kings and lions and lambs.

This Jesus stood for something, which is why he died for everyone.

So when Jesus was born, the night was holy, but it wasn’t silent.

He was all the things God was doing in the world, made known in the Scriptures.

He is the fulfilment of all the things he was speaking to the Professors about in the Temple, aged 12 (I don’t think he’d have struggled with the 11+).

He was all these things.

That’s why the 17th c. poet Richard Crashaw has this amazing line in one of his poems, that here in this baby Jesus, we see:

 ‘Eternity shut in a span’

“Welcome, all wonders in one sight!

Eternity shut in a span;

Summer in winter; day in night;

Heaven in earth, and God in man.

Great little one, whose all-embracing birth

Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.”

Now that, Katie Perry, makes me ROAR.

That’s what puts rum in my Ovaltine, and beer in my batter!

That defies the fantasy makers of this world.

That Christ-ifies a Disney-fied Christianity.

So, what is the smell of Christmas?

It’s not turkey; or holly; or snow; or mince pies; or turkey or sprouts……

Well, sprouts is nearer the truth than we’ve dared think:

If the shepherds who were ‘angel shocked while they flock watched’ are known as ‘The Great Unwashed’, and they joined the animals around the manger.

Think about it:  Animals and the Great Unwashed!

Now there’s the smell of Christmas we won’t see advertised on telly!


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