This photo was taken in 1960, by the late Stanley Devon. I have it as my desktop picture and in that size, even more than here, it’s stunning. The shadows and the tenderness of the Child at Mary’s breast, the fascination and concentration of the two little boys…. there’s no artifice or glitter, just Christmas wonder.
It’s Christmas Eve! Tomorrow there will be actual people, actual friends, actual real flesh and blood people, actually walking into the house (and talking and laughing and all that stuff) to have their Christmas dinner here! They’re so brave (I am not a great cook) and I’m so happy. I have lovely, funny, dear pals who have formed a bubble with me for the last few months and we meet once a week but on Christmas Day we have permission to break the pattern and spread our wings a little and that’s exactly what we’re doing! Yay!
Right now I have all my old favourite Christmas songs playing – from Eartha Kitt to Perry Como, to Chris Rea. I’ve polished the table and dusted and hoovered, and chopped veg and worked out roasting times, and now I’m looking around for some other bigger and more … you know… heroic thing to do. If this was a 1950’s Hollywood film, I could shovel the snow off the pavement and build a snowman. Or chop logs or go ice-skating. But this is West Wales, and we don’t get snow very often – I can remember just two snowfalls in the 15 years I’ve lived here. Today it started off damp and stormy but now the sky is blue, with big billowing clouds, and there’s a nip in air, sharpening our senses and putting spring into the arthritic step. I’ve just delivered some goodies to a friends’ house and on the way drove past the supermarket – past all the packed cars queuing to go in and gridlocked cars waiting to go out. Madness. Lovely madness.
Does that sound as if I’m above it all? I’m as subject to Christmas excitement as anyone. I did all my food shopping on Tuesday but one of my guests tomorrow likes fish so, to make sure it was really fresh, I went back last night, at 9 o clock, when it was wet and windy and dark and only idiots would be out shopping (me). Where was the marble slab we see in the adverts, piled high with sea bass, mackerel, monkfish, scallops, prawns and lobsters? It was empty. The only fresh fish available was salmon. Bother, bother, bother. I wanted to do something special. But you know what? I enjoyed the experience of shopping in the dark, of feeling Christmassy, watching the woman in front of me with her trolley piled high, wondering who would chomp through the two very large boxes of cheese crackers and the three huge panettones.
A couple of years ago, in a sermon at our little red church, our Pastor mentioned that at the birth of Jesus, human history was split in two, that it was the essential fulcrum to everything that went before, everything that followed on. It was an aside, not the main point of the sermon at all, but that thought stayed with me, and I still marvel at it! Just think… he’s right…. even our calendar marks the birth of Jesus. All over the world we will write 2021 on January 1st, and that’s 2021 years (give or take a couple) since the birth of Jesus. (OK, in some parts they don’t use the Gregorian calendar but you know what I mean).
The more I think about Christmas, the giddier my thinking becomes. Wonderful giddy I mean, vertigo giddy, amazed giddy, not silly-ass giddy. Today I read something in a book by David Mathis that has me stunned;
“Jesus is forever the God-man. To put it in the apostle John’s language, the Word became flesh (John 1:14). His humanity isn’t a costume. The eternal, divine Son didn’t simply make a cameo appearance in the created word. He forever joined our humanity to his divinity and for all eternity will be fully God and fully man.’
The italics are in Mathis’ original text, but they’ve made my thoughts italicise too! He quotes several other Bible texts to support his statement and they are completely confirming – for example 1 Timothy 2:5 ‘There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ. ‘
That jolly well excites me! It’s a bit like the moment when I realised that Jesus wasn’t created, but always was. The realisation that the second person of the Holy Trinity is fully human, even now, as well as fully God, is just mind blowing. Our Tridentine God, the divine LORD, his precious Son, and the Holy Spirit – do you get what that means? That means that we have a flesh and blood man waiting for us, a man who is love, a man who is God, a man who is sinless, who understands us totally, sharing our humanity, and loves us anyway.
It’s so lovely to think of the Christmas story, but our joy and gratitude goes much further than Bethlehem.. The nativity is not a sentimental fable that starts and ends in a stable with a mother nursing her baby – that’s just the first scene in a three act play. ‘the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.‘ The child became a teacher and leader, powerful and uncompromising, followed by thousands, feared by the authorities. He wasn’t soft and warm and fairy-tale sweet – he was revolutionary, an honest voice in a corrupt world. He turned accepted teaching on its head, trampled on hypocrisy, spoke for the poor, spoke against greed, faced the might of Rome and the jealousy of old men steeped in religion, and then he died for love. He died for love.
And one day we will be with him, in all his Godliness and all his humanity. What a wonder that is. Jesus is our Wonder of Wonders. I feel like those little boys gazing at the manger… rapt.
Happy Christmas. Here’s a little fat angel for you, from the top of my tree.