The question,’ Well how did you get over the Christmas?’ is a fairly tired question, and usually provokes similarly tired responses. ‘Yea, grand, quiet enough’. The reality is probably quite different. Some will have jumped, bopped and danced through it. Some may well have staggered through it, in some form of fog. Others no doubt took refuge under the duvet, and peaked out with various degrees of wishing it gone. I suppose I would like to address a related, though also quite different question. How was the real Christmas for you this year? Did you get it? Or did you miss it? Did the noise drown it out? Did all the food sap your energy? Did you get stranded on the couch? Was even the thought of shuffling as far as the crib too far?
St. Matthew’s had a very busy Christmas. Funerals, weddings and baptisms on top of our usual schedule made for a very packed week between Christmas Day and New Years Day. This was great and evidence of a living faith community. We experienced the cycle of life in all its joys and sorrows. However it was very active and noisy and did not give much space for reflection. It’s really only in the last few days, as 2016 gasps its last and 2017 squawks its arrival, that I have had time to ask myself how did Christmas 2016 really go? Or did it? Did I get over it? Or under it? And most importantly of all, did I manage to sit with it, or in it, even for a little while? Thankfully the answer is yes, well at least partially. I am happy to say that I sat at the heart of Christmas. Actually I am happy to say I managed to sit in the crib for nearly a hour one day just there in the twilight of 2016. I think you might be surprised when you hear what happened me and indeed some of the characters I met.
I say ‘nearly an hour’ but in fact it seemed more like ten or fifteen minutes. This type of almost time warp, or as I have experienced it, time-jolt, can often form part of deep prayer. The cynic might ask was ‘it not sleep’? Indeed only those who have experienced it, know that not only were they awake but awake in a way that is unmistakable in its crisp clarity. There is no fear here. Actually it is better than that, it is a safe place. Something like being gently held. There is no booming voice or flashing lights but rather a deep stillness. It is not difficult to feel God’s presence here.
I suppose the great surprise of my visit to the crib was in the characters I met. I was glad to see Zechariah there. He talked plenty and it occurred to me maybe he was making up for when his speech had been withdrawn. It should be no surprise that his silent period made him think a lot about the power of speech and how we use words. In fact he said he talked less now but thought more about what he said. What he did talk more about now was God’s power and most especially God’s love. The wife of the innkeeper was back and forward a lot. She seemed very kind. The wives of the shepherds brought bread, cheese and milk. I think most of the blankets came from them. A few times I did not like the feeling I had. A feeling of foreboding, that something bad was going to happen. Gradually I realised this feeling came over me when some of the visitors from the East began to talk about their meeting with Herod. It was frightening to think some of them thought he was charming. Some actually had begun to believe that he really just wanted to come and look, and give praise to Joseph and Mary, and especially the infant Jesus. Sometimes I wondered was Herod near. He must have been very frightened and unfree in himself to get so far down the road of darkness to actually want to kill the baby. I don’t know if Simeon and Anna had visited or was it that people just talking about them. Apparently Simeon had waited all his life to see the baby and now in a week or ten days not only would he see him, he would actually hold him in his arms. It’s hard to imagine such joy, after a lifetime of waiting, to see and actually be able to hold the child awaited as Messiah and Saviour.
It seemed to me that everybody brought something from gold to the little lamb, from bread and milk to the simple smile and the eyes wide in wonder. My eyes were wide, wide and wet. Never before or since have I been as sure that these were tears of joy and deep gratitude and most definitely wonder. It was around this point that I gave up struggling with the question what could I bring him. I realised that since Jesus had come into the world for me then the best I could do was to present myself to him. And there you have my Christmas grace. Amidst some lovely presents the Christmas spiritual gem is right there. When I am at my lowest ebb, my most empty, my most alone, it is then that I need to unite my helplessness to his presence, the divine presence, God’s presence, present in his Son.