It always seems just that little more unjust when a terrible tragedy occurs near to Christmas; it seems to bite that little bit deeper that when – as we are being told that this is the season to be jolly, to gather with our family and friends and give thanks – some sorrow dims the bright colourful lights we surround ourselves with.
Any day that a loved done is ripped from us – unjustly, prematurely – is a day that is burnt in to the heart like a brand, whether it is a bright summers day with the skylarks dipping in and out of the blue skies and summer bugs; or a grey midwinter whose only previous duty had been to provide at least enough daylight to get the chores of the day done.
But the enticing presents we are encouraged to buy, that extra rich food we want to treat ourselves and our loved ones to, the constant reminder that this is the time we give special thought to those dearest to us – this is also the season that for those whose grief is fresh and raw; those whose hearts are still heavy with a grief they cannot shake; those whose lives are left discarded and forgotten.. these enticing gifts, colourful lights and glittering decorations serve to throw light on the deepest and darkest of sorrows.
When the days are too short, too cold, too dark, too forgotten we may out of guilt cast a glance in their direction, perhaps given a donation or two, and tell ourselves that – for another year – we have done our duty and given thought enough. But then we forget again – we forget that even the warmest day wont make the cardboard box any more comfortable for the homeless person. We forget that the grief of losing a child does not cut less deeply when the decorations have been put away for another year. We try not to remember that poverty, loneliness, illness’, isolation, exclusion, oppression and violence don’t melt away with the ice in the bottom of the drink at the party.
Winter has always been a time of hibernation, a time of death: the days are too short, the wind bites the cheeks and we reach for the light. But in our reaching – for hope, for even the merest flicker of the slightest flame – for the promise of the renewal that will follow, eventually, we grasp only long enough to warm ourselves against it enough to tide us over. We don’t think to pick up the light and carry it – carefully, thoughtfully, generously – so that others can share in its comfort.
Instead we put it down again, or pack it away with that present you don’t really like from the relative you tolerate for the sake of a quiet life.
The Christ child is born – but for the mother who has just miscarried the longed for child, the sight of such a precious and vulnerable blessing may resemble not happiness but grief.
The Christ child is given – but for the homeless person who sees the bright lights coming from the church at night and knows they would not be welcome, there is no generous joy.
The Christ child is incarnate – but for the trans woman who is treated with disdain and suspicion because how she presents her body is viewed with enmity, there is only a hollow story that serves her only ill.
Sometimes our human hands hold that tender light too roughly – sometimes we even expend a lot of time and energy into stamping out the spark.
And yet the Christ child is born, the Christ child is given, the Christ child is incarnate: the slightest flicker of a flame, a barely smouldering wick, the slenderest and most vulnerable spark, here for the oppressed, the captives, the prisoners, the weak, the sick; those considered the very least by men, yet raised to speak truth to those same men by God.
In the bleak midwinter, keep tenderly the light
And may the peace of Christs Mass, be with you on this night.