Advent Firesiders

Luke iv (2010)

As we prepare to receive Jesus into our midst we tend to get muddled in a homely sort of way: the almost anonymous figure of Saint Nicholas after whom half of Europe is named, more obscure even than our beloved Saint George, rides his sleigh in a red coat dreamed up by a public relations company in New York; we dress our trees in pagan bliss mitigated by the angel at the top; and we get all sentimental about a mother and a baby and, oh yes, a donkey and an ox and an ass (not certain whether Mary's donkey is the ass that accompanies the ox); and we fall in love with rather motley shepherds; and promote astrologers into kings; and, of course, we can't leave out the weather so we import "snow on snow in the bleak midwinter long ago"

What a wonderfully human way to respond to a mystery. We don't need to be consistent or coherent and certainly not literal. The very details of the story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke invite us to take a broad view of events; but there is something at the heart of the story, the mystery of the incarnation, which we tiptoe around with proper reverence, with a kind of spiritual candle to ward off the Winter gloom.

We will put up with cold without complaint to sing carols; we will agonise over the right thing to buy for a niece; and the right thing to do with Uncle Eric on Christmas day; and we will hide our generosity by grumbling about how commercial Christmas has got when most of the commerce involved is in supplying presents from the generous heart.

And all of this is in pursuit of a celebration which never palls. There is no need to be sentimental about Mary and the baby for to bear and nourish a child is beautiful enough; there is no need to sentimentalise the threadbare surroundings of our Savour's birth for to be poor is real and universal enough; and there is no need to sentimentalise the rough-and-tumble shepherds for simple worship is what we are called upon to accord to our Little Lord.

The Incarnation of our Lord and Savour Jesus Christ is the most remarkable story in the history of God's creation, the most mysterious and the most joyful, the event which makes us Christians. We shouldn't be too hard on ourselves. The world is a difficult enough place with enough hard edges to hurt everyone. Our Creator God made it beautiful but we have naturally humanised the world into dimensions, quantities and patterns; but this is a season of soft edges, a time to be gentle with others and with ourselves. There is nothing wrong with being a little muddled and sentimental as long as we remember the essential: for Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.