Wake up, little baby God
The Rectory, December 2000
I found the picture above very moving. It is on a card produced by an international organisation working for justice and poverty eradication, not specifically for Christmas, but amongst their collection of Christmas cards. To me it speaks poignantly of the joy and peace which we celebrate in the birth of Christ. But in order to appreciate it fully you have to know that the mother is HIV positive, and she has just found out that, thanks to preventative treatment, her baby is not.
We love Christmas. We look forward to it - even if we might wish that the looking forward were a bit more restrained and time-limited in our city centre - and the whole process of moving through Advent with a growing sense of expectation (‘from darkness to light’) towards the climax of our Carol Service and Christmas services can be a real time of renewal if we enter into it wholeheartedly.
But perhaps we also need to own up to the fact that some of our expectation is based on nostalgia and a bit of romanticism. The decorations, the Christmas tree, the special smells, even the crib provoke a warm and comforting glow in many of us, myself included. There is nothing wrong with that… provided that we do not reduce the Incarnation to just that. The joy and the love on the face of both mother and baby in the picture, and the little verse (that is unconnected with the picture) are of a different order. One of the things that I have learnt through the privilege of visiting churches around the world which are immersed in a world of suffering beyond our imagination, is that their celebrations of Christmas are about the reality of life. Over-eating, festive fare, extravagant presents, pretty decorations simply do not feature, because they cannot. The joy and the peace they celebrate is of a God who is at one with them. Jesus, Mary, Joseph - the family outcast, with no home to go to, surviving the ravages of childbirth in an outhouse, sharing the animals feeding place, and then refugees. They share their life. And Jesus, on the road to the cross from day one, offers them hope, a new way, and a transfigured life. And they sense the calling to participate, to collaborate with God on that path through life. What joy and expectation! It is in that mother’s face, it is in her innocent baby’s face, and it is to be seen in the faces and lives of so many who are called to faith amidst the suffering of the world.
May it also be at the heart of our celebrations. And from Fran and myself, and all our family, thank you for our first months together. May you all have a Very Happy Christmas.