I hadnt’t thought about it, but a friend asked me today if I was going to write something about Advent, which, I guess, starts this coming Sunday.
I find Christmas a very challenging time. For those of us who are essentially ‘on our own’ in life, it’s a hard thing. There’s a call to return to the heart of the family, deck the halls, bring out the old Christmas decorations and comment and remember, “Oh yes, this is the one you brought home by mistake from the Christmas party” and “Oh, right, that’s the one we bought in the antique store”. Eggnog maybe, and a few carols. Trim the hearth and set the table.
But I’m increasingly trying, or pretending I’m trying, or even just thinking about trying, to detach all of that from the birth of Jesus. The pagan festivals are lovely, the pomp and candle-light and solemn joy of them. But Jesus was born in a chilly stable on a winter night in a hard country. The shepherds who heard of it were huddled together on a cold night. Christmas is out there in the cold and the dark.
And even for people in the heart of family, at the end of the day, the turkey carcase put away, the gift wrap all recycled or burned, I think there’s often this feeling of “Is that all there is?’”. Something missing. All the build-up and the shine and the golden fanfare and the doors flung open, and a sense of loss.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” the carol says. It’s frightening to go too deep into the silence and the darkness – we may just find our own broken heart there. Maybe a little less fruit-cake and egg-nog, and a little more locusts and honey?
On the other hand you might say, though you’re probably too kind and I’d best say it for myself, “Billyboy, if you hadn’t wrecked your life maybe you’d be building a golden Christmas in the heart of a family, nodding off by the fire waiting for Santa to come.”