by Franklin Lee
from Signs of the Times No. 47 - Oct 2012

In this book, Adrian Alker challenges the many classical images of Christmas. While acknowledging the joy and the laughter children of all ages have during the time of Advent of Christmas, Alker also reminds his readers that Christmas has a much deeper meaning than carol-singing or the exchange of gifts.

The Christmas story speaks of the God who is love and God's will for the world to be a place of peace and love, mostly powerfully summarised in the Magnificat (Song of Mary) in the Gospel of Luke. Nevertheless, while Alker challenges the 'legendary' elements and the historical accuracy of the accounts of Christmas in the Bible, he rightly stresses that these stories need to be read within their own historical and cultural contexts. Throughout the book, Alker relates brilliantly the Gospel accounts of Christmas with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).

While recognising that theologians continue to debates over the details of the Christmas accounts, Alker rightly stresses the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the One who will bring peace with justice and bring light in the darkness. Furthermore, the themes of good will and peace and of the Kingdom of God where the 'poor will be lifted up'  and where all are included, all point towards the inclusive nature of God. Alker argues that the classical 'marks' of our Christmas such as the beautifully composed carols, the festival of the nine lessons and the use of candles can indeed draw people into this deeper understanding of Christmas.

The book is designed to be used either for individual or group studies. In each chapter, Alker provides a number of questions to help the readers to explore and study the Gospel stories of the birth of Jesus. Drawing from his experience in the parish, Alker also offers practical advice and calls for his readers to be 'imaginative, celebratory, unafraid to use story and legend, mystery, theatre to capture the mood of our community and to represent the truths of Christmas' (p. 35).

This is indeed a useful and a delightful book for those who want to make their Christmas a meaningful one.

Revd Franklin Lee is curate at St Mary & St Nicolas, Spalding,and is a a member of the Modern Church council.
Christmas: Ancient Meanings, Modern Faith by Adrian Alker is part of the Together In Hope series, produced jointly with PCN BritainFree to Believe and St Mark's Centre for Radical Christianity, the aim of this series is to encourage those who seek a Christian faith open to the challenges of the 21st century.