As the year closes , fighting to make the most of what the law permits us to do, we find ourselves at Christmas. We are kept distant from those we are closest too, by our desire to protect and keep safe and respect the regulations that keep us apart. What divides us, unites us as we know that everyone we share this world with, is facing the same struggles and feeling the same pain as we are.
More than any other year I can remember, are the challenges of simply trying to be with the people we want to share this special time with. More than any other year, are the sales of sparkly lights, wrapped around trees, hedges and houses, as we all long for light at this dark time. For many, the days drag as the opportunities for activities diminish and our drive to do something seems to dwindle. And in the middle of these depressing times we look back at the year gone, and out at the Christmas lights.
This year has not been ordinary. Television pictures of face masks and deserted city centres in far off China raised few concerns until those same masks and silent streets were seen in our towns only two months later. It was not ordinary to have our children home from school, our businesses closed, and to be confined to our homes, but that was our reality. New words were coined, phrases used with a poignancy and irony that was far from ordinary. The chancellor paid people not to work and people could be together only if they stayed apart.
Before this time last year, this tiny crown-shaped virus was unknown and the disease it caused unreported. Twelve month later, it’s hard to imagine a news bulletin that does not tell us something new that has been discovered about it; it’s genome has been sequenced, it’s variants identified, the disease it causes mapped and scrutinised, treatments devised and vaccines created. With the power of governments and the expertise of scientists and doctors, the known is abstracted from the unknown. And yet as we continue to question, how often do we hear the response, ‘we just don’t know’?
With all the world’s resources and the capacity of people to learn and discover there are still things that we do not know. Things that we cannot know perhaps. Words we use in everyday conversations behind which are concepts and realities that the greatest human minds struggle to comprehend; energy, gravity, matter, consciousness. Those who trust in science alone, or any other discipline of knowledge, trust in something that is finite, limited by our capacity to think and to perceive.
I think this year for me, the hardest thing to deal with is the way that all this chaos, pain and upheaval is caused by an unseeable agent, an invisible virus which changes closeness with another human from comfort to concern. Do they have it? Could I catch it? Will it harm them? Will it kill me? Testing helps, but the unseen remains invisible, and in a world where we trust in what we see and know, we are left with uneasy feelings and a lurking fear.
Our lives have all been changed. How that change will play out into 2021 remains to be seen, but one lesson I learned through these changes, is the value of neighbours. The people, who through the choice of a home, become the community of people we live next door to. As we walked the streets for exercise, chatted with people passing our garden and clapped and sang carols in the street, previously unknown faces became known neighbours. Strangers became friends, a place to live became a community to live in.
If this year has been one of extraordinary events, caused by the unknown and the invisible perhaps we may be better prepared for Christmas than we have in other years? This year we know that the world is dark, and that what we desire most is light in that darkness and someone to come close, even as others are pulling away. We know that fear may cause us to change our behaviour, but what we really need is hope, light at the end of the tunnel, something good to move towards.
The narrative of Christmas asks us to consider that in the middle of the ordinary, the extraordinary can happen. It reminds us that beyond our knowledge is that which is unknown. The impersonal shut door can open to give the opportunity for a personal connection. God may seem so distant to some, that we are tempted to live as though he does not exist. But this story is told to remind us that he chose to come close. It tells us that God preferred the ordinary, the working girl and her builder partner living on a low income in uncertain times, to wealth, power, stability and safety. He chose closeness with all its risks; disease and death, heartbreak and homelessness. In the Christmas child the unseeable became seen, the unknowable became known, to those who choose to know him.
Fear does not need to have the last word. Our lives are worth more than to be simply directed away from that which we fear most. In Jesus, those that met him and meet him still, people see light and hope. Light to see the way through life’s dark places and a hope that carries us on into the unexpected, the unseen and the unknown without fear. We may not know what tomorrow will bring but we do know that we will not have to face it alone because the one who knows what tomorrow holds is holding us.
Perhaps after this year we all may be a little more willing to accept that the extraordinary is actually more everyday than we once thought. Happy Christmas!
Below is a song which I pray will inspire and lift you! We all have a choice, choose joy!
If you would like to hear about future posts, then please leave your email address and you will be sent a notification next time a post is added.