And so this is Christmas – perhaps

Warning:  Those of academic bent should note that this post contains fairly random reflections that have only tangential relevance to my research. 

There are signs of Christmas everywhere. I arrived at church on Sunday morning and got “encouraged” to join the choir for the annual service of readings and carols. Had I known, I would have brought the harmony version of the hymn book and not had to sing soprano. No, wait – even though I am one of nature’s altos, I don’t sing harmonies easily without practice, so it’s probably just as well. Except that I did try to sing the descant to “O come all ye faithful” which probably wasn’t a good idea. Just as well I don’t have much volume in the top part of my register. :-)

Having been out of town for the last several Sundays, I’d forgotten about our “empty Christmas tree”, but had fun choosing two gifts to put underneath it after the service – for a boy aged 1-2 and a girl aged 2-4. Not, mind you, that I have any idea what you might buy that is gender-specific and suitable for a child you don’t know in the 1-2 age group. I found a shape-sorter puzzle for him, whoever he is, and a really cool alphabet toy for her. The child selects a letter of the alphabet and puts it into the appropriate place on the toy and then presses the letter and is told the name of the letter and the sound(s) it makes. Pressing a musical note plays the alphabet song. There are two volume levels. I hope the child’s parents don’t hate me for life, but I didn’t find it irritating and I did include spare batteries.

I am ambivalent about Christmas. Not the event, but how we celebrate it. I remember the affront of a member of my congregation years ago when I pointed out that there is no biblical account of Christmas that includes the angels, the shepherds and the wise men and that the wise men never made it to the stable behind the inn. It occurred to me as I was listening to the reading about the shepherds on Sunday that “the heavenly host” that appeared were probably intended to include the cherubim and seraphim described in revelation and didn’t look the way the Christmas cards depict them at all. I guess that eyes facing in different directions and multiple sets of wings are hard to draw and would probably scare small children. And then I think about the recent blog conversations about miracles and figure that the angels are probably a part of the gospel stories that some scholars of early Christianity have placed very firmly in the “myth” category, so maybe it doesn’t matter how we depict them, anyway.

I’m in favour of sharing with others, but I don’t really understand why Christmas is a time when families need to get together, especialy since some families should never be allowed in the same room because of the trauma they cause to each other. Sure, Mary and Joseph were off to the town of their ancestors, but there is no evidence that they were in that stable with anyone except eachother. Where, indeed, was the rest of Joseph’s family?

I sometimes feel like a real Scrooge (as in Dickens, not Disney) when I suggest that some of our Christmas celebration stuff is neither necessary nor Christian. Although I must admit that my first planned task for my holidays (which begin on Thursday) is to cook a Christmas pudding, recognising that my grandmother is probably turning over in her grave (again) because she taught me that a good pudding should be cooked and hanging by October!!

What brought all this on, though, was a post on Cheryl Lawrie’s hold :: this space blog called pray peace, which reminds us that “peace does not always come in the shape of a baby”. She expresses clearly but gently the pain that many women who are childless or have lost children experience at this time of year when everywhere they turn there are pictures of madonnas and the pain of those whose unwanted pregnancies won’t end as happily as Mary’s did.

So, at this time of year I find myself once again reflecting on what might be an authentic Christian celebration of Christmas. The fact that I’m doing research into early Christianity brings new and interesting dimensions to this reflection. Although the Gospel of Thomas isn’t big on Christmas (having no nativity story) my research and being involve in the blogosphere have brought me into contact with a different group of people and range of opinions about the early Christian texts which give me new things to think about.  Which is almost certainly good for me.

Poster Presentations

Recently, April DeConick updated her website on the Codex Judas Congress to be held at Rice University 13-16 March 2008. All the paper titles are up now and it looks really fascinating, with a wide range of speakers presenting papers – a real who’s who of gnostic studies from a range of perspectives, including Prof Majella Franzmann, my doctoral supervisor. Pity it’s on the other side of the world and outside my actual research area. :-(

I am trying to stay away from the site to help control my basic envy, but I did notice on my last visit that there are some very useful links to pages on the web about doing poster presentations. Although I have seen some very effective science-based posters presented at conferences, I have always found the concept of presenting a poster for a religion/humanities topic rather puzzling, so have never offered one. These links are helpful.