Instead of the usual image
on top of the blog
this time use your imagination
Dear Readers, this is my last blog this year, it seems a good time to write you with a thought of Christmas in mind. That celebration when we wish each other peace and goodwill. That celebration where we indulge in the love of our family and friends and generally eat and drink a little too much.
Peace on Earth
Maybe a good place to start is where this all began for me. Remembering strongly the place and time when I was a child in Holland. Usually there would be snow, frost, cold, short days and much warmth inside. There would be special things to eat, Christmas decorations and soft snow on the windowsill. There may have been a snowman in the miniscule garden but there was definitely a warming fire in the hearth. The Christmas tree would arrive, bringing with it the perfume of nature and the forest. A fresh wood smell mingled with the smell of sweet spicy Christmas cooking. Then, on Christmas eve, the very old and beautifully painted statues of the Christmas story would appear. A highlight. Carefully, they would be taken, one by one, out of an old cardboard box and out of their soft paper wrappings. Some animals, I recall an gentle bovine and a scattering of soft sheep, there would be a baby Jesus, a Mary and Joseph, a few shepherds and the magnificent three kings. All would appear from the their year in storage. As new. The whole scene would be set around an old wooden stable made, by my dad, from bits and pieces. Lastly, and to give the whole scene an ambiance of a stable, there would be a few handfuls of fragrant straw, another special effect for a city kid.
The whole scene used to be placed on a side board (I recall this specifically because it allowed me, when I was small and this event was at its most potent, to view the scene from eye level. As a result it appeared most realistic, as if I was part of it). The tall white candles would be lit and with that action the magic of Christmas arrived. I could stand for hours looking and dreaming at this most wonderful and intimate scene.
Christmas eve would be very special, not because of presents because we did not exchange presents and gifts during Christmas. This was a family event with the emphasis of sharing the family experience rather than things. (How I still long for the feeling of that time, gift and hassle free). This was also the time for the story of the nativity scene to be told and the questions, as to why a child had to be born in a stable, which was beyond my imagination, to be answered. Here in the warmth of a my family’s Christmas home I always found it hard to understand that when a man and his pregnant wife, riding a donkey, trying to find a place of comfort they had to be banished to a stable. Although on the sideboard of our house this all looked good, the real story, and the way it was told with colour and imagination by my dad, changed all that. I used to be puzzled and horrified. I still am.
I still am because now I once more have to relive this Christmas story in my own home. Only now the nativity story of old has become all to real. The people seeking a place of comfort this time aren’t named Mary and Joseph, and their child about to be born isn’t called Jesus, but those people seeking a place of comfort are still people and in many ways exactly the same as those seeking a place of comfort some two thousand years ago. They are people in need who come to our door and knock on it in hope… Although the story is similar, there are a few differences. The donkey is replaced by a old donkey-like boat, the stable is now a place of detention. The straw, of some comfort, is replaced by razor wire and the candles lighting that scene centuries ago are now white searchlights. The animals of the nativity scene, which gave at least a sense of warmth and comfort such as the donkey, oxen and sheep, have been replaced by growling guard dogs. There are still the good shepherds and even an expression of the three kings in the form of the many concerned citizens and refugee advocates. However, they are not allowed to enter the stable to bring their simple offerings. Nor some human warmth.
After the event in Bethlehem we were going to make sure this would not ever happen again. We even called our commitment after Jesus Christ, that is ‘Christian’ so we would be sure to behave as Christ, or Christians. We even build many churches to make sure we would be reminded of our Christian behaviour each and every Sunday. Good Christians. Today’s innkeepers the politicians of both sides Heartofstone apparently are also Christians and go to church to prove it. By making this comparison I think I am being unfair to the original inn-keeper. What I remember from the story was that he did not have room, while our contemporary innkeepers have more than plenty.
One of the strongest images from the original nativity scene on the sideboard, lit by candles and perfumed by real straw was the peacefulness of the swaddled baby Jesus. Still now, many years later, when I look at a newborn baby that feeling of an all pervading peace and sense of wonder overwhelms me. It maybe the total innocence of that new life, it maybe the promise of the future, it maybe the total helplessness of the being. Whatever it is, it is very special. Looking at newborn babies, and not only the baby Jesus, seems to bring out the best in people. Most people.
Just as it was inconceivable for me to understand, as a child, how a baby could possibly be banished to a stable to be born, it is now totally inconceivable for me to understand, even as an adult, how my government, and we as a nation, could banish children of all ages to a detention stable. Not for a night but for years on end. Some of them have been there all their lives. For some it is their fifth Christmas. Why I wonder. How, in 2012, can we as fellow human beings possibly allow this to happen. Christians? What sort of Christians are they?
Look at the children around you now, look at those children again at Christmas and wonder, as I do, at the terribleness of this situation and the absolute heartlessness of the politicians responsible.
I have long since given up on being a Christian and on Christian politicians. I have had a bit of trouble with the examples I am continuously being supplied with. I even feel that Christmas is now without real meaning and just a commercial fake. However, all the same, I would like to wish you all a lovely and safe holiday season, whatever your believes. Till next year when I hope the sun may shine for all children.