But in a sharp and painful reminder that there is no earthly paradise, a Rottweiler and a terrier come tearing round the muddy bend towards me, out of control, unaccompanied and looking for action. When their owners emerge and I invite them, albeit quite directly, to control their dogs, I’m invited to do something Anglo-Saxon and entirely unfestive. I am shaken, my trousers are covered in mud and the peace is shattered.
There IS no earthly paradise, not even on Christmas morning.
We’ve tried our best to cutify Christmas, to feminise angels, whitify Jesus and sanitise the whole story. It’s all tinsel, stars, angels and shepherds, and quite right too. I like tinsel, stars, angels and shepherds as much as the next person.
But the original cast of characters weren’t clean and sparkly. As someone pointed out on the radio this morning, there were no handwashing facilities in the stable. Animals and grubby shepherds, new mother and newborn baby all rubbed along together.
Christmas was not clean. Neither was it bloodless. Apart from the mess and stress of an unaccompanied birth in an animal pen, there was a massacre of babies. Grief and cruelty were right alongside the miracle, inseparable from it. And every single person in that stable was “off-base” in some way or other, out of their comfort zone and not where they would thought they’d have found themselves a few months earlier.
The original Christmas was messy and complicated. The only stable thing was the stable (sorry). If your Christmas feels unstable, uncomfortable or messy at any point today, you’re closer to the real thing than you realise.
It’s a story of redemption, of a God coming into the mess, not of pretending the mess wasn’t there in the first place. Of a Saviour touching the mess and making it clean, rather than becoming contaminated by it. When God gets involved with man it tends to be messy as well as miraculous.
Our world looks considerably messier at the end of 2016 than it did at the beginning of the year. And quite frankly by the time 2017 is done with us, we may look fondly back on 2016 year as the good one.
The original Christmas wasn’t cute, comfortable or clean. But it was real. Have a Happy and a Real Christmas! I’m off now to change my mud-covered trousers and get clean for the day ahead.