On Christmas

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It’s Christmas Eve, and all over the house, not a creature is stirring, apart from parents desperately trying to wrap everything, get as much prepared for the feast as possible, not wake the kids and make sure everything is perfect. They might flop into bed for a few snatched hours before the children rise bright eyed and expectant, sweet for a little while, but soon to become sugar-fuelled tornadoes.

Christmas has become a sort of monster, a festive mouth yawning wide with tinselled teeth, waiting to devour all our time, money and energy. For many in the west, it has become a time when we are surrounded by abundance, and yet cannot find the peace or the joy at the heart of it all. We know it’s there somewhere, maybe it’s the present that is buried right at the back of the tree, under all the piles.

For others, there will not be enough this year. There might be fewer presents. Someone who should be here is not. A job, or an opportunity may have got lost somewhere along the year, and honestly, it’s a miracle there’s even a bag of sprouts. Others are all alone, facing another special day with only the tv for company and a ready meal for one as their feast. Still others are too ill to enjoy anything, or are in hospital or deployed in another country.

Even for those who seem to have it all sorted, no matter how bright the lights, how big the turkey, how tall the tree, something is not quite right with all this. There is an emptiness at the heart of it all. We’ve forgotten why we are doing  it, and we all feel as though we are missing out.

I think we have been got at by the spirit of Anti-Christmas, which seeks to wrap nothing very much in a swathe of santa paper and glitter, to con us with tinsel, to distract us with bargains until we are dizzy with the meaningless expense of it all.

Oh, we all know what it’s supposed to be about, the joy of the saviour’s arrival, a little baby born in a stable, we know the nativity story and we might even be singing, or watching our children sing, some of the festive carols. We bluster about keeping Christ in Christmas and we bristle when we are made to say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings, but do we have any real idea why?

The real scandal of Christmas, the truth that the enemy cannot stand, the reason that he tries to draw our eyes away with schmaltz and sparkle, is that the Christmas story is about the upside down kingdom of God. Christmas is about the impossible made real, the scandal of God incarnate screaming his new lungs out in an animal trough, the scandal, really of God’s grace, the foolishness of giving the world his heart on a plate, the unspeakable risk of it, the audacious vulnerability of birthing himself into poverty, into a place where the world will seek almost immediately to murder him: the pouring himself forth into our poor, stricken, greedy, violent lives.

It is ludicrous, and yet it makes perfect sense. Our holy God, accepting such smallness, the infinite restricting himself to the tiny. The Word becoming a speechless child. It paves the way for the Prince of Peace to be violently killed. It tells us that we serve a self-emptying, obedient, impossibly loving God who will risk everything, suffer everything, with us. Immanuel, the incarnation, born of a poor maiden, into a world that can’t even be bothered to make room for him.

The wonder of it is too much for our hardened hearts to understand, most of the time. We never come close to grasping it. We could meditate on it all year round and still be left shaking our heads in perplexed awe.

I don’t know how we can pass up the trappings and frippery of Christmas in order to actually focus on the real gift we are being given. Maybe we don’t need to, some of them, after all, are fun, and Jesus is certainly something worth celebrating! “What about the children?” or “We are doing if for the children!” is what we cry out in defence of our traditions. Well, that’s fine. But lets’ do the right things for the right reasons, for our children. Maybe we can simplify things a little, so that there is more time. Maybe we can give gifts where they are really needed. There are a million blogs out there today that will tell you how. I’m not concerned about that. We can all celebrate how we would like to.

All I want for Christmas is for people to be released from the pressure of the fantasy of the “perfect” Christmas, and into the truth that God is with us and God is for us. God is prepared to burst screaming onto a hay-strewn floor, prepared to learn to walk and talk, prepared to spend time with us, prepared to be vulnerable, patient, loving, kind, generous, in the face of our selfishness, prepared to suffer, prepared to die for us, prepared to give himself up for love even if nobody ever notices or even thanks him. He is prepared to be the child born to a couple far from home behind a hotel. He is even prepared to be the unseen miracle at the heart of a winter feast. May we each of us catch a glimpse of his holy humility this Christmas.  God bless us, every one.

 

”In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

(Philippians 2: 5-11 NIV)

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Not Forgetting

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Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we traditionally think on the sacrifice made by servicemen, women and animals in wartime, who have bought the peace we live in at a horrendous price. I am a pacifist, but it doesn’t stop me being grateful, overwhelmed and sad, at the sacrifices that have been made. I have every respect for those who laid down their lives.  This year, it’s all a little more poignant for me, as I am finishing up a novel I’ve spent 2017 writing, set in England during WW1. It focuses on the experience of bereaved women, but the research has been harrowing to say the least.

Another thing that has brought the reality of loss home to me is the recent discovery that my husband’s great grandfather died in France in March 1918. His name was Frank Hunt and his name is engraved on the the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery.  He is just one name among hundreds of thousands of British troops killed of course, but sometimes just that one person and their connection to you, can be a revelation that opens up our compassion, when a heart cannot cope with the legions of deaths from both World Wars and more.

“Lest we Forget” is the constant refrain on Armistice and Remembrance Days. It seems impossible that we ever would. And yet, today we are still dealing with the phenomenon of Holocaust deniers, the rise of the far right, yet again, and the lack of respect on all political “sides”, for those who have fought, been injured or died for their countries. Even the very liberal left have their strange rhetoric about remembrance glorifying war, which is horribly disrespectful, I feel. One can be sad about the losses and grateful for the sacrifice without condoning violence. One can believe war is the wrong way to go about solving problems and yet still be respectful of the suffering of those who went to fight and die, often without any idea of the horrors they were being sent into.

We are still at war of course, a seemingly unending mess of bloody conflicts in the Middle and near East since the First Gulf War began in 1991. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Serbia, Rwanda and all those  conflicts, deemed somehow lesser by the media that we hear little about in our news stories, all the tribal conflicts and border disputes, and in a smaller way in our everyday lives, the wars between race, gender, sexualities, political parties, even church denominations.  Fighting, it seems, is in our blood.

But we should take heart that part of the human condition is also reflecting the Father’s character and the Son’s sacrifice. That wherever there is conflict, there are also diplomats, medics and chaplains. That there are always, somehow, people willing to stand up to evil ideologies and megalomaniacs. That there are always truth tellers, dream-mongers and peacemakers, like Gandhi and Desmond Tutu, as well as social activists seeking to bring about a lasting and level playing field, like Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.  And when we remember the millions of people who have died in war, both military and civilian casualties, as well as those affected, traumatised, injured or bereaved because of conflict, we do well to honour their sacrifice, their losses and their journey. If we deny this, or choose to forget, we may never learn to change course. May we always remember, and let it lead us to do everything we can to foster peace.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Artwork © by R. R. Wyatt