Here I am; another Christmas, another infection. Actually, the last two Christmasses have been good, infection free, and I’ve been free to join in with all that seems to make Christmas – carol singing, present buying and wrapping, Christmas meals out, Christmas food. I’ve been in on that this year too, well, up to two days ago, when my lungs decided they weren’t going to play ball. Since then, I’ve lain in bed or on the sofa, again observing Christmas but not being a part.
But I should know by now how stupid that is. Of course I am a part. Being sick does not make you a spare part, or not a part at all, of the celebration of the greatest gift that was ever given. The adverts would have us believe that Christmas is all about being so very sorted, so very unbroken. The beautiful family sits with more beautiful family and friends around the tastefully decorated table, real tree in the corner dripping with expensive and tasteful decorations (all colour co-ordinated, of course.) The baby giggles, the children play nicely together, everyone pulls crackers and oohs and aaahs at the exciting contents. The food is perfect; everything timed to be ready together, everything presented nicely. Everyone glows with good health and beauty, everyone loves each other, everyone is jolly and fulfilled and the epitome of what Christmas is all about.
Facebook can be even worse, for the sick and the sad. So many photos of happy families, joyous in their lives together, the appearance of all that is good. Christmassy family trips out, meals together, baking together. The sick mum looks on and despairs, her children sat again in front of screens instead of frolicking in the fields or making mince pies good enough for Mary Berry. Pictures of cosy, warm homes, perfectly decorated by someone strong enough, in body and spirit. (I am just as guilty as posting this version of our lives, at times.) Then there are round robins. You know, where all the achievements are listed and nothing bad happens. Hermione gained 14 A*s and learned to play the harp to grade 8 standard on top of mastering ballet and photography. You know the sort. (Thankfully, most of the ones we receive are real, and I love reading them.)
Is this what Christmas is?
It’s not, is it? Because Christmas is for the broken. It’s for those who haven’t got it together, those who haven’t got a perfect table to sit round with a perfect family, those who have no family at all, those who are confined to a sick bed, those who have lost someone they love, those who have divorced, those who are struggling with anxiety, those in crippling debt. Christmas is so much for the broken people, and God came down among us in a broken scenario. A stable, not a restful, peaceful place of Christmas card fantasy but a cold, unwelcoming, dirty, smelly setting for the son of God. God chose to come in brokenness, born to an unwed young mum, born in scandal and disgust. No perfect table and hot food for the bewildered, tired couple, no crackers to pull or family sat around in peace and harmony. A few mucky shepherds turned up, trailing their bleating sheep. How was that a perfect Christmas?
Yet that’s exactly what it was. The most perfect Christmas. The one which meant everything. That Christmas meant freedom for many, hope for the world. It meant that God was among us. Immanuel.
You tore the night apart
And ripped the silent skies in half
Your glory breaking through the dark
And here our worlds collide
Divinity in man confined
This great design drawn out for me
(from ‘King of Heaven’ by Hillsong United)
I want to remember that Christmas isn’t for the sorted, for those who have arrived. As I sit, frustrated by my body’s treacherous unreliability at a time I want to feel strong, I think of that vulnerable baby and remember how God chose to come in vulnerability, in pain and darknesss, and think about how God is here in our darkness. If Christmas seems far from something you enjoy because of life being difficult, for whatever reason, remember what Christmas really is. A celebration of the Christ child, a celebration of God’s passionate love for us. In the midst of my pain, this light breaks through and infuses me with hope, with joy that God did this, for me. For you.
May you be at peace this Christmas, wherever you are in life, whether you feel like that perfect family on TV, or whether you are so broken you cannot begin to imagine celebration. May you be infused with the peace beyond all understanding that comes from knowing God’s saving plan for you. May you know the hope of the Christ child, held out over the wreckage of wrapping paper and squabbles, filling the emptiness and creeping through the shadows, pervading the gloom and exploding in glorious light.
(And may I get over having to cancel seeing Star Wars yesterday, obviously.)