Christmas Eve: love you to Bethlehem and back

There is a tradition that the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is a time for miracles. Beatrix Potter, who wrote the Peter Rabbit books, said that,

it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk, in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the morning (though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say.)

Beatrix Potter, The Tailor of Gloucester (Frederick Warne, 1987 edn)

And there has been a lot of attention paid this year, on its one hundredth anniversary, to the so-called Christmas truce between the Allied and German forces in the trenches of World War I, when beleaguered soldiers sang Christmas carols across the battlefield, and even exchanged gifts of the goodies sent from home.

It wasn’t long before the peace broke back out into all-out war, but for that brief time of respite, it must have seemed as though the heavens were smiling on them, there in the mud and the mire; must have sounded as though the angels were singing with them, Peace on earth, goodwill to all people.

Certainly, we could use a miracle or two this year, this season. We could use some respite. We could use some peace.

But the real miracle of Christmas is not about respite, or a break from the grueling realities of life. Just the opposite. It is about the very fact that life goes on, with its struggle and strife, and the miracle is that as shabby and shameful as we can be, with our wars and our worries; as silly and unnecessary as we can get with our greed and our distractions; as human and prone to error as we show ourselves time after time, that God is in it with us.

The miracle of Christmas is not that life as usual ends, or is even suspended, but that God loves us in the very midst of it, in the middle of unmade beds and unmade Christmas pies; in the middle of family squabbles and tantrums; in the middle of our divisions and yes, our sin; God loves us.

Far from laying back and letting it all go, God is actively labouring to be born among us.

That is why the angels sing. That is why the shepherds run. That is why the wise men come and the very stars gather to celebrate, illuminate the small, stumble-down, tumble-down stable of Christmas card pictures and children’s nativity plays, or whichever humble home with a manger of hay Jesus found to be born into; because his birth, in reality, was not so much unlike yours or mine.

As the Christmas carol says,

Day by day like us he grew. He was little, weak and helpless. Tears and smiles like us he knew. And he feeleth for all our sadness, And he shareth in our gladness.

(“Once in Royal David’s City,” words: Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, Hymns for Little Children, 1848)

That is the miracle: that God is with us, born to be one of us, so that we may know that God knows us inside and out, that God loves us inside and out, to Bethlehem and back.

Tomorrow, the cats will sound like tortured violins again, and the sides will draw up their lines again, and peace on earth will feel like a dream deferred.

But God is dreaming with us, snoring in the manger with sweet baby’s breath. And there is no going back from that. God, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ is here to stay

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