Christmas is done. The decorations are not quite as charming and exciting as they were last week, the cards are beginning to fall over and some are in a little heap, the fridge is just about back to normal, and now I’m wondering about New Year… do I really need to go to the shop tomorrow? Will those tomatoes last another two days or should I just use them up now-now? Shall I start my Christmas jigsaw puzzle today or wait for the do-nowt day that is January 1st?
Christmas is done and dusted and on we jolly well go. Hmmm. Really? That’s it?
I’m afraid that I’m stepping into the New Year much as I stepped into 2022, with the best of vague intentions and a general feeling that ‘things can only get better’. A year ago we were still reeling from the impact of lock-downs, and no one knew (apart from the madman Putin, of course) that the year was going to be rent apart by the bloody war and heartbreak of Ukraine. We also didn’t know that a revolving door would be the new entrance to No10 Downing Street, or that there would be record floods, droughts, storms and fires from one end of the world to the next. We didn’t know that the Queen would die and that her grandson would … well, least said, soonest mended. We didn’t know that Covid would go on mutating and spreading. And so we welcomed 2022 with mild anticipation that it would be ‘more of the same but maybe a bit better.’
What will this year bring? It will bring what it brings. That’s the truth of it. Individually we can’t deflect the wars and troubles. But we can surely do something about our own lives? Can’t we? I mean, come on, we’re not entirely powerless, are we?
Will anything change for me, and in me, this year? Or will it be more of the same? What’s the point of every new day if we don’t grow wiser – even a tiny tad – and kinder, before the sun sets? What’s the point of marking every year if they’re all the same and we never get any better?
Right, let me get this out of the way; I really don’t like the New Year thing. I loathe the lists we get in newspapers and on TV… the ten best films, the ten top songs, the ten most read books and all that malarkey. And then there’s the night itself…. New Year’s Eve crowds and the terrible TV shows (does anyone, ever, watch the dismal Jules Holland show? Why is it there, year after year? Is he blackmailing the schedulers? ) and I hate having to stay up late and keep the telly on to drown out the noise of the stupid fireworks so that the dogs aren’t terrified. You may have gathered that I am the grinch of New Year. It’s bloody rubbish. My husband loved New Year and so when we were together it was fun. It was. He was a Scot and to him Hogmanay was bigger than Christmas. Just after he died, to escape the echoes and the chasm of grief that New Year would bring, I took my daughter and her friend to Jamaica. No one had told us that in the Caribbean New Year is even bigger and louder and brighter and sillier than it is here. It’s also a bit like St Valentine’s day, all hearts and kisses and romance. We sat in the hotel restaurant, overloooking the beautiful beach, surrounded by helium hearts and loved-up couples and a smocchy-coochey DJ (a Barry White wannabe) crooning into his microphone ‘Gentlemen, look at your lady and tell her how much you love her.” We abruptly abandoned our table, making sure to take a couple of bottles of champagne with us, and we saw midnight in as we stood knee-deep in the warm, sparkling sea, swigging bubbly under a shining wonderful moon. That turned out to be a good way to mark the end of one year and the start of the next, but the experience wouldn’t be quite the same here in West Wales.
But here’s the thing – I’ve just spent whole days remembering the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, and for Advent month I’ve been happily heading towards that great and amazing day. Which is quite a lot of anticipation and fuss. So, after all that excitement, how has it changed me? It must have changed me, surely? Will I step into 2023 with any more wisdom than I had when I stepped into 2022?
Did remembering and marking the birth of Jesus bring anything new into my life, bring any fresh insight?
Pin back your lug’oles, this is what I am taking with me into 2023;
Christmas isn’t a warm retelling of how a baby was laid in a manger by his beautiful Madonna, watched over by a patient carpenter, and it isn’t about a donkey and a gently lowing cow or two, it isn’t just about three wise men or a gang of bewildered shepherds and it isn’t, listen, it really isn’t a sweet story of a cosy stable under a gentle night sky. It isn’t! It jolly well is not.
The birth of Jesus is the story of a teenager’s labour, a girl of probably 14 or 15, no anaesthesia for her and no clean bed with crisp linen. This child is born to a shamed girl in an occupied country, in the middle of a long and exhausting trek through an unforgiving landscape, born into poverty. Birth back then was terrifying. Mothers and babies often died and this young girl was away from her family, with a man who was almost a stranger. I’m sure Joseph was a good man but he was a man of his times – his care for Mary would look very different to the mutual care and standing possible between a married couple now. The world Jesus grew up in was not full of democracy and equality and human rights. This child could not have been more disadvantaged. A Jew in a country ruled by Romans, a child who would be executed in the cruellest way imaginable 32 years later. This child would die of blood loss, dehydration, suffocation and heart failure, an object of scorn. Who would look at this small squalling child and say “Yep. That’s very obviously the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God” ?
But I believe he was. Is. How strange. Passing strange. How can anyone believe that? Only by the grace and gift of God.
The life that this newborn was going to experience was… singular. How do we find a word to describe his life? He was a man who gathered crowds, someone people flocked to be with, a man who ate with his friends and family, who was so charismatic, so compelling that men walked away from their villages and livelihoods to follow him. He was a man who grew thirsty and tired, who shared wine, who lit fires, who fed his hungry followers, who slept in the gunnels of the boat, who felt pity and anger and sadness, a man who owned nothing, a man who prayed, who exasperated those who loved him, who bewildered his own brothers, who would not speak in his own defence, who went towards his death willingly, and a man who broke conventions, walked across cultural divides, was tender with women, angry with greed, a man who wept.
He was a man we can all love. A man of simple pleasures. And he was God. Is God. He chose all those things, all those strange hard things in that life, that death. He came into the world because he loved the world. He loved us with all our flaws and failings. He knew the beginning from the end and he came anyway.
That’s amazing. That’s earth shattering! That’s just breath taking. If I have really understood that truth, and take it into the New Year, and live in the light of it, what a year of transformation it will be! Too often when we talk about Jesus, we end up presenting the world with a picture of a sweet baby, growing into an obedient child, maturing into a good man. But that’s not going to shake the world to its foundations, it’s not going to revolutionise any lives…. What we need to say loud and clear is that Jesus is and was God. Mighty, powerful, righteous, terrifying, wonderful. Terrifying. There’s something wrong if, alongside the love, and the assurance we have, there is not also an awareness that God’s might is terrifying. He was God before he was born, when he was born, and when he died, and every minute inbetween. He isn’t dead, he is still God, he is still man, he is still. God is still. Still alive, still at work, still loving, still caring, still providing, still present, still leading, still relevant, still pure, still uncompromising. Still.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
John 10: 30 ‘I and the Father are one.’
Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.
John 8:58 ‘Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
“I am!” Yahweh. God. Before time and through time and beyond time.
So. That baby was God. Is God. He created the world, he created man and woman, the mother who gave birth to him was his creation, the stars in the sky, the shepherds, the angels, the wind and the warm, the dirt under the feet of those kings, the gifts they carried, all of it, all of it, created by that baby. That’s the story of Christmas and if I truly believe that, then everything takes on new meaning. If I truly believe that, then my life has to be filled with the knowledge of God! Filled! I have to be conscious of that great miracle, as dazed by his presence as the shepherds, as fascinated as the wise men, I have to lay my gifts down before him. I have to – oh, hang on – I have no gifts.
Oh, but wait, yes, I have one gift. Just one. I can give him my New Year. I can give him my 2023.
Come on 2023, let’s be having you! This is where the story really starts.
One thought on “STILL”
Was the sea really warm? Such a detail made me there. Oh Luce. I miss you am looking forward to seeing your lovely face xx
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