11 Dec Advent: Greatness made small.
This time last year I was working on a play in one of the major theatres in our city. It had been a somewhat fraught rehearsal process and as we entered tech week we were all exhausted. On day three of the tech, when we had been working 14 or 15 hour days, not seeing our kids or thinking about Christmas and the presents we still had to buy, my very good friend Roxanne (our fabulous Deputy Stage Manager) and I nipped out on our tea break to buy some food.
The streets were heaving with people weighed down with shopping, trying to keep their hoods up to protect them from the rain. We rounded one corner, and found ourselves on the main shopping street.
This is where things got really bad.
In front of us, blocking our way, was the monstrosity that is the Coca Cola truck.
We stood, dumbstruck by the sight of this enormous vehicle, standing proud in all it’s red, shiny, enforced jollity. From one end a long queue of people trailed. Children expectant, parents trying to create one of those ‘magical moments’ I have heard of.
Roxanne, who is far quicker than me, immediately tucked her arm into mine and, as we negotiated crying babies, women in elf costumes and too bright lights, said to me;
“I wish, instead of whatever ‘experience’ they are lining up for, when they got in the truck and past the elves, loud music and fake snow, they went through a curtain and on the other side of it found a teenage girl, exhausted, semi-naked, trying to breastfeed a new born, and a young man looking on helpless, speechless, overwhelmed by what had just taken place.”
Oh to have thought up that performance art spectacle.
For this is the violent collision that is Christmas.
When it comes to the nativity story we are familiar with the format.
Often it is seen as myth, or fairy tale. A good story, a nice story, but far removed from the reality of human existence.
And for those of us who believe, we have sanitised it to make it acceptable for the time of year. To fit with our warm feelings. So it is a suitable companion for our mulled wine and mince pies.
I have given birth to three children. I wouldn’t put a picture of it on a greetings card.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the school assemblies which tell the story. And I love singing the carols and putting on the bookshelf the papier mache nativity creations my two girls made, many years ago.
But if we reduce the story of the nativity to a picture postcard we are missing the very great joy and the very great truth, of Christmas.
Foretold throughout scripture the Jewish people were waiting for a messiah. Prophets declared his imminent arrival. Songs were written about the day He would come. Pictures drawn with words about who He would be, and how He would change everything.
They waited for a King to overthrow their oppressors, a warrior to lead them to victory, a mighty leader to deliver them from captivity, imagining the strength and power of this saviour, who would arrive and make all things right in their world.
And we wait and we hope for change. For a new government which will act for peace. For an increase in our earnings to dig us out of the debt we are in. For health for us or our loved ones, to lessen the fear that marks our days. For restored relationships, that we would be right with fellow man… For a white-bearded man driving a shiny red truck to park on a rainy Lord Street and make all things right in our world.
But the messiah did not arrive as a knight on a white horse, or a military leader, or a political powerhouse, or even a jolly fat man in a red suit.
No. The saviour arrived helpless and vulnerable.
In a world where everyone is jostling for power, or position, for respect and credibility, the rescuer was wrapped in the translucent skin of a newborn, and entered the world as we all do, slick with his Mother’s blood.
The light of the world was willing to be small, to be the least.
I don’t, I can’t, fully understand the miracle and mystery of that night.
But something in the pit of my stomach tells me this was the way it had to be.
Because we needed someone to show us what it means to truly be human. How to act as a human. Not competing, or comparing. Not fighting to get our needs met and gain the approval we think we will feel if we reach the top, if we have succeeded.
But to reveal the paradoxical truth that there is power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence.
The word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:14