Or maybe my title should be, not getting into the Christmas spirit, but then I’d have to be one to admit that I struggle with this every year. I am not particularly a party person, I find large gatherings exhausting. But this year has brought with it another layer of my seasonal need to hibernate, my personal circumstances mean that I am not in a particularly festive mood, but add to that the continuing pandemic, who this time last year would have thought that we would be in a similar place this year, with a new variant causing concern and everything still uncertain. I guess that experts and history have pointed to that possibility, but I have never lived through a pandemic before and have no way of telling how the constant underlying anxiety of it will continue to affect me, and so many others.
I want to applaud those who seem able to get on with life, who have celebrated the lifting of restrictions, and returned to a greater normality than I have, I want to applaud them, but in some ways they terrify me. I am also acutely aware of others whose worlds have shrunk much more than mine, those who remain clinically vulnerable and need to continue to be very careful, and remember of course that those folk aren’t all elderly, young people have lost vibrant social lives. Many have lost loved ones. There is much to grieve and mourn over. There is much to lament.
There is much to grieve, to mourn, and there is much to lament, there is real exhaustion too for many, those who have given out so much, we need only to look to medics and healthcare workers to see all that they have given, add to that list teachers and any involved in education, shop workers, delivery drivers, public health officials, but the list could go on and on. Parents who never know whether their children will be at school or at home, the demands to return to the office balanced with family needs. Families separated from loved ones for extended periods, plans changed at the last minute again, and again. Those of us who a minsters, pastors, and lay workers in the church are also exhausted amidst constantly changing constraints and regulations, expectations of being upbeat, and differing demands from our church communities we also have to hold ourselves.
Last weekend I went out to two Christmas events at the churches I serve, I found them both to be meaningful, and even described myself as feeling a bit more festive (steady now), and I was, but in a muted way if that makes any sense. I am now preparing for my Christmas Day service, and I know I will enjoy it, but I am still not particularly in a celebratory mood. So, I ask myself the question, do I need to be?
I look back to that first Christmas, and leaving aside my usual reminders that no donkey is mentioned in scripture, nor is it likely that Jesus was born on the 25th December, that there was no stable in the sense that we understand it, oh and the Magi didn’t arrive with the Shepherds, all of the things people enjoy me saying, I wonder what it was like. Mary must have been exhausted by the journey, however she got there, Joseph to, and then the anxiety of finding the houses packed, maybe the stable ( likely to be under the house of a relative) was the best place to give birth that night. Then of course there is the whole back story, angel visitations, so many questions, who was this child who was to be born to this ordinary yet extraordinary couple. We must remember they weren’t the only ones on the road for the census, and everyone had a back story, but this is the story that we tell with various embellishments again and again.
This story, the story of God with us, is more powerful than the pandemic, this enfleshed God story breaks through again, not with cheer and frivolity, but with a quieter celebration of life itself, in all of its terror and glory, the hope of a new-born, born for those whose hope is worn thin for whatever reason, born to those who grieve, who struggle, who despair, to those who want to have a party, and to those who don’t. God enfleshed knows suffering, bears our griefs and carries our sorrows, where do you need to meet him today, what are the griefs and sorrows you need him to bear?
For me, this year the Christmas spirit is not about celebrating, well not in the usual way, but a bit quieter, more reflective, and quite solitary, but please don’t feel sorry for me, it is what I am choosing, because it is what I need. This Christmas-time Lord, take a corner of my heart and steal in, be born again in me and through me, gently, as I turn to life anew.
New life begins in the dark, whether it is a seed in the ground, a babe in the womb or Jesus in the tomb- new life begins in the dark (paraphrasing Barbara Brown Taylor)
Of course, if you are looking forward to gatherings and much festivity, please don’t take this as a criticism, enjoy your Christmas, many blessings.