Christmas in life’s mess The Bishop of Pontefract

One of the great scenes in the Christmas story takes place in the fields outside the city of Bethlehem. The angel appears to the shepherds to tell them the news of the birth of the Messiah. ‘And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Yet many people today find Christmas ‘not what it used to be’, ‘a messy commercial enterprise’, and ‘a joyless chore’. How can they ever sing ‘Glory to God in the highest’?

The answer is wrapped up in the birth of a baby. Christmas teaches us to accept the humdrum, the chores, the trivialities, the messiness of life as a source of joy. The circumstances surrounding the birth of the Son of God were certainly messy, although the story of Mary, Joseph, a humble stable with a manger and straw, shepherds, and wise men on camels has been romanticized in legend.

We should remember that Mary travelled on a donkey while she was heavily pregnant, with a husband who, not long before, wanted to break off their engagement. They were turned away more than once in their search for lodgings and when they did find somewhere, strangers kept coming in to gawk and wonder, making it an all-round messy situation.

All our lives are so messy that we can legitimately conclude that it is meant to be that way. There is never a time we don’t have some kind of problem and there is never a day without its hassles. We plan a great Christmas get-together for family and what happens? The cake sinks, the parsnips burn, Uncle Dave has too much to drink, Aunt Madge just got divorced and won’t stop crying, cousin Sue has the flu that we might all catch, and the cat just licked the turkey. God says it’s okay. We can still sing ‘Glory to God in the Highest.’

This Christmas is not the first Christmas where the international situation is tense and anxious. We do not know if 2007 will bring more conflicts or further terrorist attacks but every news bulletin speaks of a new and terrifying reality. The world is a messy place this Christmas.

We can only find joy by embracing life exactly as it presents itself, with all the bumps, upsets, drudgery, inconveniences, pettiness, discomforts and messes included. If things have to be perfect, neat and all wrapped up in tinsel and pretty ribbons before we can enjoy them, then our experience of joy will be very limited, if we find it at all.

It will never be a ‘happy’ Christmas for you if you cannot sing ‘Glory to God in the Highest.’ Despite all the messes and problems in your life, this year try to focus on the positives. For every problem you have, find a blessing you enjoy. For every difficult person in your life, think of a friend who brings you laughter and fun. For all the work you do, reflect on the benefits your labours bring you and others. Take time to notice what others have done for you. Look at your Christmas cards and reflect on those who sent them to you. Don’t let this Christmas go by without finding something that makes you want to sing, like the angels, ‘Glory to God in the Highest.’ ND