|Pen and Ink Reflections||
One of the saddest sounding of Christian truisms is that ‘God has no grandchildren’. When I first heard that phrase I was a little taken aback. Of course what it is trying to say is that we cannot have spiritual relationships at second hand. Each of us has to respond to God in our own particular way. Despite what some would like to believe, we cannot directly inherit faith from our parents, or from others. They can put us on the right path, just as Mary and Joseph were doing in taking Jesus to the temple in today’s Gospel story. We have responsibilities too to others to offer them spiritual pathways, and to invite them into journeys of faith. Ultimately however, each of us has to unwrap the present, and receive the promise, ourselves. Nonetheless, do we really believe that God does not enjoy relationships like a grandparent, or a grandchild for that matter? I truly do not think so: a conviction born both of my own experience and today’s Gospel story. Rather what I see and know is the extraordinary wonder of God in cross-generational relationships, and, not least, the resilience and joy of elders of many kinds…
One of the Christmas cards that struck my eye this year was one that has a picture of a Jesus figure on the front, accompanied by presents around their head, and the proclamation ‘It’s All About Me’. What do you think about that? I suspect that it is a gentle way of poking fun at both the tendency of some Christians to be somewhat sanctimonious about ‘possession’ of our end of year communal festivities, and also the way in which we often want Christmas to meet our own expectations. This often begins as children - doesn’t it? – when we human beings don’t quite receive the magical Christmas for which we were hoping: maybe when we don’t have quite the special present we were expecting; and/or when our Christmas meal, or worship, isn’t quite right, or too much; or when we, or others around us, aren’t able to maintain the proverbial spirit of peace and goodwill in all our interactions. Sometimes our expectations are just too much, or too unrealistic. Sometimes they are quite right, and we are let down by events or by others. Either way, we may feel a little betrayed, especially if hopes for ourselves are involved. Perhaps however, in the disappointments of our personal Christmases, we may still learn a little of the wisdom in the birth of Christ. Fresh light may then stream in, particularly when we start looking beyond ourselves – not simply to the Christ child, but to everything about them. This may be part of the learning of this Covid-19 year, in which many Christmases are not as the world as a whole would hope. For, like the first Christmas, pictured in various ways in the Gospels, we have had to learn that it is not ‘All About Me’. If God is among us – the central message of Christmas – then he/she/they are everywhere, but not as we expected, and all of us are, truly, ‘in this together’…
Have you ever thought about how truly ‘queer’ in the best sense, Christmas is? Angels and shepherds, wise people of dodgy backgrounds with very odd gifts; a baby (but apparently one that according to the carol doesn’t cry!) and an unmarried mum giving birth in a hay barn – to say nothing of God sprinkling glitter across the sky in the form of stars and skies full of glory. It is all frankly very surprising, and really a bit queer.
And this is the point isn’t it? - that God, God always does the surprising thing, not the boring thing! God always turns the world upside down and showers blessings in unexpected places. God makes Godself flesh, incarnate, in some very unlikely ways.
Today, the second Sunday of Advent is traditionally devoted to the prophets – and in particular to the voices of second Isaiah and of John the Baptist as recorded by Mark’s gospel. Those voices, spanning the centuries, call us home from various kinds of exile...