No Fairy Tale
Before Christmas countless cribs appear in our shopping precincts, contradicting our affluent materialism. Christmas for the majority has become a piece of history, a fairy tale in the pantomime season. But, in frenzied shops the crib represents all that is real, for life, unlike fairy-tale or pantomime is full of contradiction and paradox and is not about the feel-good factor that shopping can create. ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’ and although the light is not overwhelmed by darkness, the darkness is not obliterated by one flash.
Like your own baby, Jesus grew up to become that man on the Cross. Beyond the human you see God so taking our nature as his, that what is divine and human grow into one Person in such a way as never to be severed again. This is what brings light into darkness and what St Paul meant by saying that in the fullness of time ‘God sent his Son born of a woman.’
House of Bread
Mary carried in her womb the Bread of Heaven that would be the Christian’s food and strength. In the Eucharist, we receive the Bread of Heaven shaped in Mary’s womb that we might live in the life he lives with the Father in the Holy Spirit. This bread makes our place of worship a Bethlehem, a name that literally means House of Bread. In this bread is God’s own life given that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
This is not pantomime. The abnormal manner of his birth and the unusual manner of his death prove this. Born in a stable, he died on a Cross. Christ was born in darkness and he died in darkness. In the manger he was wrapped in swaddling cloths – in the tomb he was wrapped in linen cloths. Yet at his birth he is described as ‘Saviour’, ‘Messiah’, and ‘Lord’, and at his death he is described as ‘Messiah’, Son of God’, ‘King’. Mere shepherds were the first to hear of his birth and criminals were the closest physically to him at his death. Gentiles from the East recognized Christ’s divinity at his birth, and a Roman centurion confessed him as ‘Son of God’ at his death.
A Way Beyond
This is God’s light, illuminating a path, a road, another way through life that invites every age to try it. Here Emmanuel, God will be with us at every step even when the darkness hides him. He is a rod to hold on to even through the valley of the shadow of death, that will bring us to the light and life beyond.
Christmas opens a whole new way of living and dying. This Bread is a quality of life which transcends all alternatives. Those with the Cross over them at Christmas know this. Their passion like Christ’s passion is the darkness in which they walk in sickness, bereavement, unemployment, marital breakdown – the experience of a rejection that cries out to God ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ This Cross ultimately marks everyone’s life and assures us that life is never a fairy tale.
Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon, in the Diocese of Durham