Blue Christmas 2013

There is a scene in the extended poem by W.H. Auden, For the Time Being, that has never left me since I first read it. The language is so visual I can almost see it. Transplanted into contemporary England – contemporary, for Auden, being the 1940s, in the middle of World War II – Joseph is telling of how he discovered that Mary was pregnant, and he not the father:

My shoes were shined, my pants were cleaned and pressed,
And I was hurrying to meet
My own true Love:
But a great crowd grew and grew
Till I could not push my way through,
Because
A star had fallen down the street;
When they saw who I was,
The police tried to do their best. [1]

The Star of the nativity, that shining, joyous light, had fallen with the bombs of the Blitz and blown Joseph’s house away. His life was strewn across the street in disarray; nothing would ever be the same again.

The gift of Christmas was not an easy one for Joseph to receive. Yet he didn’t say no.

Receiving life, receiving love: it’s a high-risk strategy, a potentially explosive gift. We open ourselves to the danger of loss, of injury and trauma. Yet we do it, because when the stars align and the sky is bright, it’s so worth it.

Was it the dream? Or did that only encourage Joseph to have the courage, not to be afraid to do what he really wanted to all along, to marry her anyway, to continue to strive for the happy-ever-after he had always seen in her company? He must have loved her so much.

The Incarnation of the Christ-child did not solve all of Joseph’s problems. It saved the world; but it didn’t make Joseph’s life any simpler, or his sleep any more deep and dreamless. Jesus was born to save the world, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Instead, life continued, with its gifts, its unexpected explosions, its promises and its plot twists.

Joseph married Mary. He looked at life with her, with God, with Jesus, and his house broken down and the neighbours sorting through his scattered belongings; and he looked at life intact, unbroken, but alone; and he made his choice.

The gift of Christmas was not an easy one for Joseph to receive. But he loved her, and he loved God, and that love – never mind dreams of angels, would that convince you? – no, it was love that carried him through. No matter what he lost that night, nor how many doubts he carried on with him, how many worries, it was the fact that he said yes to love that saw him through, and brought him to Jesus.

Jesus, who was born and himself broken for us, and for our salvation, to bring to us the knowledge of God, of God’s love, of God’s peace; peace even in the midst of exploding stars and disordered lives and fallen houses; love that is always worth receiving.

 


[1] Lines from ‘The Temptation of St. Joseph,’ from “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio,” in Collected Poems, by W.H. Auden (Random House, 2007), 362

****

After the service, someone asked if she should blow out the prayer candles. “They can carry on praying on our behalf for a while,” was my response. They clung to life tenaciously on our behalf, only succumbing one by one, defiantly.

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