I struggle with Christmas, I know that it is an unpopoular thing to say but I find it to be filled with stresses and expectations that I could do without. I don’t like the commercialism or the perculiar demands placed upon me as a minister to be upbeat and positive, to share the joy of the Christian message; “God with us Immanuel”….
There is joy in the message of course, and just as one of my favourite things about the season is the prolifetation of lights so I am reminded that lights show up their best in the shadows, and for me Christmas is a season full of shadows and darkness, but I am grateful for the light.
I struggle with the twee images on Christmas cards of a chubby babe in a well lit stable, “all cosy and warm” when I suspect that that image is very far from the truth. I struggle with the way that we roll the story up into a neat event when it was infact an unfolding saga of struggle, heartache and pain lasting for about 3 years of we tell the story from the annunciation to the flight to Egypt.
We so often miss the nuances that bring depth to the story; those Shepherds were probably responsible for raising the lambs used for Temple Sacrifice, lambs whose blood signified the washing away of guilt and sin, how fitting then that they would kneel before the one who would remove all need for further sacrifice!
Then the Magi, strange foreigners who would find themselves caught up in a storm of political intrigue which would end in the slaughter of many innocents as Herod tried to protect his throne. Their gifts were in many ways equally strange, who would offer and embalming ointment to a baby?
There are many more shadows and nuances to be teased out if we dare to find the time to do it, and for me they make Christmas possible as I am called to face my own vulnerability in the face of the one who would live a life of openness and vulnerability calling many to turn from their ingrained ways of doing things. It has taken me years to break away from the commercialised images of fleeting perfection that I was brought up with, years to come to terms with the fact that it is impossible to make things perfect even for a day.
To my own children I apologise because I have probably passed on some odd notions to you, but I want you and others to know that it is OK to struggle with Christmas, and that it might just be that it is in the struggle that we find the true light who is coming into the world, even now, even in us.
So I end by quoting a Christmas Carol:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part,
But what I have I give him, give my heart!
So as I struggle with the demands of the season my prayer is that in the struggle I might be open enough to offer myself, my whole self, my broken, wounded and yet wonderfully made self to the one whose hands flung stars into space, and yielded those same hands to the nails on the cross and now bearing those wounds beckons me to follow him into the light.
Photo by David East