I’m sorry. Not.

I’m sorry, but I have to say this…

I’m sorry, but I’m going to tell it as it is.

I’m sorry, but this is the way I am, like it or lump it.

I’m sorry, but you know what I think?

If you have to start a statement by saying “I’m sorry but….” you probably should look at what you’re about to say with a cautionary and honest eye, take a breath, count to ten, and then see if you still want to say it. And then don’t. Even if you’re in the right, absolutely and perfectly right, and amazingly honest and insightful, the chances are that no one needs to hear it. Chances are there’s not a lot of humility in the air. Save your breath and use it instead for a bit of joy and love, a joke, a song, a prayer, a piece of nonsense. Anything. Because anything’s better than “I’m sorry but….”

If you find that little sneaky phrase on the tip of your tongue (and we all do), close them lips.

If you’re really sorry, you won’t say it.

Sometimes silence is golden.

There. I feel better now. On with the blog!

Christmas is coming. There won’t be a lockdown, Boris says so. Or, hang on, there maybe a lockdown, but shush, cos we’re not going to call it a lockdown. We are going to call it a ‘plan’. Not Plan A, because that’s already come and gone and been discarded. Maybe it will be a Plan B, or C, or D.

Plan Z has a certain ring to it.

Who knows? You know what? No one knows! We are not in charge. It turns out that mankind is not in charge of the Universe. For all our knowledge and science, on our spinning lump of rock and mud, we have no control over something so tiny that the eye can’t see it without a massively powerful lens and some chemical dye. The best we can do is either hide from it or coax some partial immunity into our bodies .

Who would have thought it? There are forces beyond our ken. Whether it’s Boris in London or Macron in France, or Putin in Russia…. no one knows the sure fire way of dealing with this latest threat. No one. All we can do is blunder along, doing our best.

I have a very glum friend. She’s a trudger, a head-down and shoulders-hunched Eyeore. Twice now she’s said to me “No Christmas this year.”

Wrong! Whatever happens, however the restrictions and the vaccine roll-out progresses, however often the virus mutates, cheer up! Christmas is coming. It’s coming as it’s come for the last two thousand years, as it’s come ever since Christians first felt the desire to remember the birth of Jesus, the miracle of Emmanuel. In the First World War it came to men in the trenches, it came in the Middle Ages when plague wracked the Western World, it has come in war and peace, in plenty and in famine, drought and flood, the rejoicing of birth and the grief of death. And it’s coming regardless of its commercialisation and cheapening and the garish ads on the telly and the Black Friday sales and all that nonsense.

Whatever is going on in the world, all around us, once a year we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. That’s pretty wonderful, isn’t it? Even when everything seems glum and down down down in the belly of the whale….. we celebrate.

I’m reading the first three chapters of Luke every morning and today I was struck by something when John the Baptist was born, and his old father spoke for the first time in months, and everyone was so amazed and happy;

Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” 

and it occurred to me that if you’d said to them “Oh, this baby? Well, he’s going to wander through the wilderness eating honey and locusts and he’ll never drink wine and he’ll thunder against the Pharisees and Sadducees and denounce Herod and then he’ll be beheaded.” it might have cast a bit of a pall on the celebrations. But that was John’s life. A life proclaiming that Jesus is God, a life of worship and service, and a martyr’s death. Fabulous.

Eh? What? Hang on a cotton pickin’ minute – that still doesn’t seem too great to me, even now, looking back. John had a decidedly rough deal, by all accounts. As far as the world is concerned he came and went and it was all pretty shabby and low key and a bit disastrous. But for all our cleverness we don’t see the whole picture. We look at what happened to John and see how tragic it was, and miss out on how stupendously wonderful his life turned out! Imagine being John and seeing Jesus approaching and knowing, just knowing that this was God. Wow. Wouldn’t that cancel out all the crunchy locusts and the bee stings and the blunt axe? I think it would. To see Jesus and know that he is God, before just about anyone else did! It might seem to us in 2021 that John had a rough deal but maybe he would say he had the best life, in spite of everything. He had the joy of knowing Jesus.

Imagine him, seeing this man walking towards him on the banks of the Jordan, this travelling Rabbi with a rabble following him. A dusty, possibly tired and hungry, young and poor itinerant teacher.But is that who John saw when he looked at Jesus?

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’….   I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

What can anyone want in life but that? Everything else is less, less important and less relevant than knowing God, knowing Jesus. Nothing is as wonderful as looking on Jesus and seeing God. John could have lived like a king, and missed out on that greatest joy.

I thought about how knowing God strengthens us, the great consolation of knowing him, as I drove away from a friend’s house today. Her lovely and cherished husband has died, her loss is heart-breaking, and yet her trust and her thankfulness to God never wavers. She’s an inspiration to me. My husband would have called her ‘a doughty wee wimman’. There we sat, two widows – one still stunned by loss and one grown used it over 30 years, sharing our experience of bereavement. There was laughter and chatter and not too many silent moments. Not quite ‘Merry Widows’ but certainly thankful ones.

But it’s hard. No escaping it. If you’ve lost the love of your life, it’s as if you stand on the edge of a desert, with nothing before you except wasteland, nothingness. Yesterday there was a familiar scene of towns and trees and a road to take, and a hand to hold, a sense of going on together into the future, and today there is nothing. Desolation. No good trotting out Patience Strong sentimentality. It’s bleak. But even as you stand there, gathering your senses and adjusting to this new reality, turning (when you can, as you can) to God, shoots begin to appear, slowly, and tiny at first. A sort of miracle. You can’t quite see what they are, blinded by grief, but as the desert begins to change, the view becomes clearer, and there’s a suggestion of a tree, a mere wisp but becoming solid and sturdy… and in the distance the shapes and shadows of a village… a different village…. and a path gradually comes into focus before you, and there’s a hand to hold. There is. The hand of the God who never leaves you. The landscape will never be what it once was, but you can walk into it, gaining confidence, finding your way. And where there was bleakness, there will be a new and different beauty.

Where there is God, however life unfolds, there is peace and joy. And God is everywhere, even in the storm and the inferno. If we have Christ, we have peace and joy. Even in tears, we have joy. Strange, eh?

That’s why we celebrate Christmas, no matter what. That’s why my glum Eyeore is so wrong. There will be Christmas this year, because light has come into the world and darkness has not overcome it. Covid has not overcome it, death has not overcome it. Come plague or fire or Covid, Christmas is our source of joy and celebration.

PS.

When I was thinking about who John saw on the banks of the Jordan, I remembered this passage

He is the divine portrait, the true likeness of the invisible God, and the firstborn heir of all creation.  For in him was created the universe of things, both in the heavenly realm and on the earth, all that is seen and all that is unseen. Every seat of power, realm of government, principality, and authority—it all exists through him and for his purpose!  He existed before anything was made, and now everything finds completion in him.‘ Col 1:15-17 (TPT)

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