The TV does it! The magazines do it! Even the Sunday liturgy does it! “Does what?” I hear you ask. Does this: goes all nostalgic. We’re all looking forward to Christmas by looking backward in memory.
The adverts are full of warm hearths and ruddy-cheeked children and Victorian windows and period costumes and gently drifting snow. Santa Claus speaks in an antique accent and even his ho-ho-hos hearken back to an earlier, rosier time. The table is crammed, the tree is laden, and every eye is full of tinsel and fire.
The ghosts of Christmas past have done their work for Scrooge. Charlie Brown has got his Christmas tree. And once more the Grinch has failed to steal Christmas. It is, indeed, a wonderful life!
Do you remember the songs of Christmas? The tunes that transport you to some former time when you were younger and wiser, when your back ached less, and the Christmas tree loomed so large, and the crèche brought tears to your innocent eyes? Do you remember when all the family managed to be together for the holidays before death and distance made their claim? Do you remember the hush of a silent night, the sleepless wait for a gift-rich daybreak, the rush and tear of all that wrapping paper and ribbon?
Ah, things worth waiting for, things worth remembering. All that nostalgia, all that juice and all that joy, and not a word of Jesus! Isn’t there always a pang of guilt that in all the rush and fluster of Christmas coming and going we miss the reason for the season, as some say. So here’s a Christmas question for you: if Jesus were here, in the flesh, this morning how would he be getting ready to celebrate his birthday?
And while you ponder your answer for a moment let me lead up to mine by dwelling on the extraordinarily ordinary meeting in today’s gospel.
Two women meeting: a young women pregnant in hasty circumstances; an elderly woman expecting after all these years. Two women of no account who wouldn’t be worth a second glance if they weren’t both heavy with child. Two women bound by blood and bodies that ought to be barren but in this winter time are ripening new fruit.
Two odd, simple women suddenly brought to joy by the life inside their bodies and the kinship between them. A simple meeting. A simple pleasure felt in the flesh: “He’s kicking!”
This is how Jesus comes into the world. The headlines don’t shout his coming. The churches are not filled on his account. But two women, in the hills, miles from nowhere, feel it in their waters and find themselves laughing and embracing and singing for the joy and surprise of it all.
And how they must have remembered in later times the sweetness of that meeting and felt again for a moment the confidence in their flesh that joy was alive within the world through them.
Didn’t they take their boys on their knees in later years, when birthdays approached, and tell them the story of that meeting? As they cooked their sons’ favourite food, didn’t they reminisce about warmer times when their backs ached less, and all the family managed to be together, and joy was simple and hope abundant? Didn’t they remember and relish and relive?
With a mother and an aunt like that how else would Jesus be getting ready for his birthday than by remembering! Remembering the day-to-day joys of simply being alive to breathe and taste and hold; relishing all that past pleasures have laid up in his flesh and today’s delight rekindles; reliving with laughter and shining eyes his blood’s excited pulse of waiting.
May we do likewise: remember, relish, relive!
December 21st, 1997