I remember one Christmas Eve years ago, when I was a Sunday School teacher trying to wrangle small children dressed as shepherds and herd animals dressed as small children and deal with both kings and wise guys and try not to show favouritism to the little angels …
There was a ten-year-old girl who was not at all happy to be there at the pageant rehearsal. Ten going on eleven is a difficult age: everyone tells you that you’re growing up, but they still treat you like a child. There are secrets whispered around the house behind closed doors, and you are awake late enough into the evening to hear both them and the raised voices that might follow. Your body keeps growing and changing – you can’t rely on it from one day to the next to be in the same condition as you left it in the night before. Everything is in flux, there is little security to be found, and it is frightening and frustrating, so this young girl was understandably angry at the world, at the pageant, and at her mother. “I don’t want to,” and “I hate you,” were the refrains to her Christmas caroling.
And this, this was the child they had chosen to be Mary.
The pageant director showed her, in no uncertain terms, her place. The child sat scowling, kicking her foot in front of her.
The mother of the baby Jesus, little Joshua, brought her son, her firstborn, her heart, and placed him in the girl’s arms. And she changed.
Her foot stopped swinging. Her face stopped scowling. Her breathing grew quiet and calm, as though she were breathing the sleeping child a lullaby. A kind of peace – the kind of peace which passes all understanding, came, not as if out of nowhere but as if out of the core of her being, called out of her by the baby boy in her arms. She sat, suddenly serene, and all of the little shepherds and the wise guys and the animals and the angels tiptoed around her in reverence and awe for as long as the spell lasted, which was for as long as the baby was in her arms. And even later, as they trailed away for the journey home, you could still find traces of calmness in the air where they had sat and moved and had their being.
I think that one of God’s wisest moments was when the choice was made to be born as a vulnerable and dependent child. The fact that we depend on an almighty God for our very being is a wonderful comfort in times of deep despair, and it can be one of great frustration when we wish that we could do more for ourselves, make the world in our own image.
In coming to us as a newborn baby, God shared our dependence, our lack of control, our frustrated cries, our hunger and the pain of separation; our deepest danger and our profound doubt in the face of an uncertain future.
We are told that Christmas is a time of joy, and it is, but joy is about more than happy feelings and bubbly thoughts. Joy, true joy is more complex; it understands frustration and anger and fear, even deep sadness, and it owns them. Joy does not depend on the perfection of the season, or of the world, or of our lives, thank God. Instead, joy is that which allows our entire being to know that we are beloved of God, as newborn infants cradled in gentle arms, whether we are crying or sleeping, or scowling or smiling. Joy is the knowledge that God delights in us, and calls us into that peace which passes all understanding, through the birth of a child at Christmas time, in the bleak midwinter, when all was dark and cold, and the only light was a stable lamp, lit to brighten the arrival of the one who loves us all. And that is the joy, the peace and the joy, that I wish you all this Christmas time.