Christmas reflection: In the Bleak Midwinter

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.

 

 

 

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A Life Less Ordinary – Christmas Reflections

She is just a young woman from a little town you might never have heard of, a place of no importance at all – except this young woman is called Mary (or Miryam). It is the 1st century BC, and the pattern of her life is set by the rules and rituals of her Jewish heritage and the Roman rule under which her country lives. She works alongside, and lives with, her family and is engaged to be married to Joseph; perhaps, her head is full of thoughts about Joseph, about how she will arrange her new home with her soon-to-be-husband, what they will do together, the life that they will live and the family they will have. Maybe, as these thoughts occupy her as she works, she keeps that secret smile worn by lovers everywhere lightly on her lips.

She is just a ordinary young woman, on the cusp of an ordinary life – that is, until she claims that she has been visited by an angel of God called Gabriel who tells her that she will bear God’s own child.  Mary knows the times in which she lives – she will not be married, she will be pregnant. Yet she agrees.

We have a glimpse of what being pregnant and unmarried meant for both Mary – and Joseph – in the Gospel of Matthew:

Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. (Matthew 1:19 – The Message)

Mary was facing disgrace: she would be an outcast – unwed, a fallen woman, her child unwanted by all except it’s mother: Joseph was feeling betrayed, hurt, let down by the woman he was pledged to marry. This was messy, painful, frightening stuff:  the weight of societies judgements hang over both Mary and Joseph, and their families. You can almost hear the whispers of the gossips, the wagging of the pointed fingers and feel the appalled disapproval of those around them.  And these are the circumstances into which God incarnate is to be born?

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 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. (Luke 2: 6 -7 The Message)

Life for Mary, Joseph and the child she carries  does not get less messy, for though Joseph marries Mary he must take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census – an arduous one over the mountains through Cana and though the barren terrain of Judea. On arrival in his home town Joseph cannot find anywhere for his family to stay, save for the place that the cattle are kept. There is no cradle, only a manger – the trough from which the animals feed.

No place for this young family, for this child, to rest their heads. No safe home, scant physical comfort – only the warmth of the cattle with whom they share their lodgings. And these are the circumstances into which God incarnate is born?

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What I love about the Christmas story – and there is much to love -is how God chooses to  be born into the chaotic messy fringes of society: out on the edge, outside of the expected and the acceptable. In fact, he chooses the unexpected and the unacceptable.

And that speaks to me: we still live in a world where governments and media so easily condem, judge, criticise and blame the poor, the single parent, the weak and the vulnerable. These circumstances are messy, and God chose messy. These lives are without status or power – and this was what God chose to be born into.

Tonight, once more, a child is born: a king without power, whose bed is an animals feeding trough and whose earthly parents have little – except for their love and faith which they have in abundance. This is where God is.