Love knocks with such frosted fingers.
I look out. In the shadow
of so vast a God I shiver
Writes the Welsh poet RS Thomas in Blind Noel. It’s a bleak vision of daring to hope over the Christmas period, a vision to which we can all relate at the end of 2020. As I write this, the turkey has been replaced by a pheasant and our boys will not be joining us. I can almost feel the lonely discomfort of the heavy pregnant Mary aching and panting her way to Bethlehem. Was that inn really full or was Mary an embarrassment? A pregnant teenager, probably still unmarried, hidden out the back.
Mary journeyed from her home to Joseph’s ancestral community and, like her, feeling distant from our own community has been the experience of recent months. Tempered by Zoom and FaceTime but a breakout room is not a dining table and a screen in not touch; and a stable behind an inn is not a hospital room with a midwife.
I’m drawn to those lines from RS Thomas as the warmth of love and the cold of frost are part of the same moment. Recalling that the in-breaking of the divine and the vulnerability of a risky birth are the same event: divine light in the dark night of Bethlehem; the eternal born to die; the joy of a mother which leads to incomprehension and grief. The first Christmas was even more messy than Christmas 2020.
Christmas is partly crib scenes and nativity plays. These enchant the narrative for both child and adult but God, the Word, taking on human flesh is also a challenge for all human flesh. “The Son of God became human so that we might become God” wrote the forth century Athanasius. It sounds almost blasphemous but that was a frequent charge used against Jesus. In reality it’s more a challenge than a promise: how do we align our desires with the eternal; how do we respond if we are divine Love?
Wishing you a safe and joyful Christmas
(I don’t really mind it it's pheasant, as long as I get the stuffing)