Disappointed. Angry. Stoical. Relieved. Critical. Confused. Philosophical. Thankful.
Our emotions have probably changed as often as the rules in the run up to Christmas. As I read social media, I see friends who are bitterly disappointed at not being able to have their loved ones round the table. I see others who are thankful they have a table and are reminding us of those less fortunate. And then there are all the others in between – and most of us are probably swinging from from one end of the spectrum to the other, which is what makes this all so exhausting.
As I try to deal with the roller coaster of my own emotions, two things have been helpful this weekend. One is the honesty of Andrew Roycroft’s poem ‘Bethlehem Zero’ which compares our difficulties with those of the first Advent:
This year none of the pieces are in place,
no finishing touch,
just the rush,
to make the best of things –
more make-do, than make-believe,
a clambering to retrieve
family under one roof,
to pluck some safety from the dragon’s teeth,
to make a place for joy again,
long looked for after labour pains,
the grace to hold our griefs
in one hand,
and with the other, just hold on.
This year has no precedent,
just more numbers from the government,
just more bitterness of argument,
sick hearts retching on hope deferred,
reading tight between the lines
for a Word
that might flare across the firmament
and speak deliverance.
But this year, we have made the best of things,
found shelter here against the odds,
adapted what has come to hand
rested in the grander plan
that underwrites this circumstance,
sees grace instead of blinded chance,
and lays in this manger ark
the Best beside the worst,
the Light amidst the dark,
the King among the filth.
And Mary cradles at her breast
the head of one who from obscurity
will carry heaven’s destiny
through thorn to crown,
dandles with her hand the heel
that, promised from eternity,
will crush King Death into the ground.
This year, we have no normal,
new or old,
but a different day,
a moment long foretold,
The second thing that helped me was the epilogue which Rev David Bruce gave at the end of the New Irish concert on Saturday. David scanned the storyline of the Bible, illustrating the desire which God has had from the beginning to be with us. Using examples from Genesis to Revelation, David talked about God’s promises throughout Scripture to ‘be with’ his people, ending each example with a phrase ‘it’s all he ever wanted’. And of course this desire culminated in the Incarnation, when Immanuel came to ‘be with’ us.
It’s not too late to hear David’s talk and indeed to listen to the whole wonderful New Irish Arts concert – get a ticket here and you can keep listening to it until 26 December. It will encourage you and uplift you.
As we all experience our own emotions this Christmas, let’s allow one another to process them in the way and at the pace that is most helpful to us. And let’s encourage one another to remember that, while loved ones may not be round the table with us, Jesus is.
Immanuel. God with us. It’s all he ever wanted.