What a week.
On Monday our Village Carol service went really well. Lots of people attended, the Hot Chocolate bar was a massive hit, and there was an amazing and quite unexpected answer to prayer afterwards.
So I came home feeling demob happy. I slumped on the sofa, did a bit of internet browsing and realised that there were cheap tickets to see our football team play that Thursday night. Before I’d really thought what I was doing I booked tickets for me and my lads and started plotting what time we’;d need to leave, where we would go for tea and how much we could afford to spend at the club shop.
Tuesday came and rumours began that there was Covid in the camp and the match might be abandoned. Not to worry I said, they’re sure to be able to field a side, we’ll go regardless.
Wednesday I was feeling less confident. We were checking the newsfeeds and more and more players were testing positive. Then at 10 o’clock on Wednesday night the game was cancelled. We heard from someone on a WhatsApp. Caroline began searching online, I switched on Sky Sports News and waited impatiently for the advert break to be over. And then confirmation. Everyone was incredibly gutted. Tears flowed, we went through the five stages of grief, and then drifted off to bed, bitterly disappointed.
The next morning I had a school assembly. We were doing a Pop Up Nativity and the message was that, that first Christmas wasn’t perfect; there was no silent night. Much like life, it was noisy and dirty and chaotic. I told the children about the football match. The shock, the tears, the frustration. It was one little example of how life doesn’t always go to plan and that even Christmas isn’t immune to disappointment.
I feel like that’s something we need to tell each other every year as the pressure to have a perfect Christmas gets more and more intense.
One advertising slogan this year is “You can taste when it’s Waitrose“. It’s a brilliant slogan really, playing as it does to all the Christmas card hopes and fears we have at this time of year.
I don’t doubt Waitrose on the quality of their food. No doubt you can tell the difference when you eat a hand reared this or a port infused that. But if the Waitrose food is eaten alone because the family couldn’t make it due to Covid restrictions, or the family has made it but has fallen out and is now not speaking, or if the family has made it, and is talking but is painfully aware that they’re one person short due to bereavement, then that food will taste like ash in the mouth. (albeit very expensive, Waitrose sourced, Nordic Fir ash).
The Christmas story accepts that life is full of disappointment. It understands that things happen, plans change, games get postponed, flights are cancelled and hopes are dashed.
More than that, the Christmas story takes place in a context of terrible darkness and sin. The people are walking in darkness. The religious leaders have lost hope. The country is in ruins and the sadistic government is about to undertake a policy of infanticide which will leave mothers and fathers wailing in agony. As the song goes,
‘There’s a world outside your window,
and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
is the bitter sting of tears’
But it is into this heartbreaking and hopeless world that an angel comes saying,
‘You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
And it is into this heartbreaking and hopeless world that a prophet declares:
‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)
Our Christmas message, whether preached at a service or written in a few words in a Christmas card, cannot be a quick fix. He has not come to reschedule football matches or overcome Covid restrictions. He will not neutralise every disappointment, we will still weep.
But he has chosen to come into our world. He has established himself as the inextinguishable light in the darkness. He has come to sinners and sat beside them in the muck of life. He is Emmanuel and he is Hope for the hopeless; the antidote to deep disappointment.