Christmas creeps up on me every year. I try for this not to be the case. I try to let Advent hold me. To let myself grow into the season with purpose and devotion. Sadly, too few times does this become reality.
I wonder if you are the same?
The ever-present tension between living the meaningful lives we so desire and the reality of a chaotic end to the year that spits you out onto the shore of Christmas looking dishevelled and listless.
At least Mary had nine months to prepare.
But I wonder if she did? I wonder if she could have? Every new parent knows the feeling of unpreparedness. Parenting is a vocation that no matter what one does, no matter the number of books read, you shall always feel inadequate and incompetent when it becomes reality. When the star hovered over Bethlehem and a baby was pushed out from virgin womb all bloody and agony and sweat and tearing. When the women gathered around, the men not allowed, Mary screaming out into the Palestinian sky, I wonder if she could have known. A bloody birth and a bloody death for the child she loved. I wonder if she could have known. Spat out onto the shore of Christmas looking dishevelled and listless and then the escape to Egypt. There is no way to prepare for this.
Like too many these days the family had to flee their homeland. Pushed out by the threat of violence. Powerful men with powerful egos. Jesus. Mary. Joseph. The refugee family. Forced to escape, to seek asylum in Egypt. There is no way to prepare for this.
The bitter wailing of women is still heard on the breeze, on the night after Christmas, in Bethlehem. Where every single baby boy was needlessly slaughtered in the wake of the saviour. Fathers broken down in shame as they tried to stand between the soldier’s sword and the soft forehead of their baby boys. Like too many these days. Like a child taken from Aboriginal hands. Stolen. Bethlehem wailed. Too many taken and far too soon. There is no way to prepare for this.
The first Christmas, it was not like my Christmas. Not like yours. The tinsel and wrapping and presents given. The prawns and the party. The $8.5 billion, in Australia alone, spent every year on stuff we don’t need. The first Christmas was more like the Christmas that the majority of our world still faces today. Harsh. Bloody. Fleeing. Cold.
And I feel the tension again of the meaningful life I desire to live and the joy of giving and sadly what too often becomes reality. Taken over by stuff. Too often I am taken over by stuff.
O little town of Bethlehem in Palestine, just beyond the wall, where Shepherds watch their flocks by night now guided by a star or winking satellite or drone in flight. This silent night may we remember the people on the other side of the wall, where mangers lay burnt and bombed, where babies never get a chance to grow up to be saviours. In the midst of occupation and resistance and fleeing and seeking asylum and governments built on power and a world built on atrocity, the inequality of patriarchy and position. In the midst of wrapping paper and gift. May we remember. May we prepare.
May I prepare.
Not just for the meal and the presents. Such preparations for Christmas can be more a sign of our privilege than our love. Let us instead prepare our hearts. For a saviour birthed bloody and a mother fleeing and a Father broken. This was the first Christmas. This is Christmas for so many. Those who too have no place to lay their heads. So, let us give gifts that matter. Let us celebrate with each other. Let us hold our families. Let us remember. Let us never let go of the tension between living the meaningful lives we so desire and the reality that too often consumes us. Let us remind ourselves, this Christmas and every one to come, of the real story. The first Christmas.