“We’re nearly there. The presents are around the tree. The stuffing is defrosting ready to stuff the turkey. It’s too late to send any more cards, too late to buy any more presents. Time to warm up the mulled wine.”
“We’re nearly there. Time for bed you young ones. We’ve left the sherry and mince-pie out for Santa, so listen out for the reindeer, and no peeking till morning.”
“We’re nearly there Mary. I can see the lights of Bethlehem up ahead.”
“Hurry up Joseph, I think I can feel the baby coming.”
“Hold on a little longer Mary. There’s no room at the inn, but there’s a stable around the back.”
“Nearly there, Gabriel? Are the angel choirs assembled? Are their trumpets tuned? Are they ready to tell the shepherds as soon as the baby arrives?”
“Are you nearly there Wise-men from the East, bringing your gifts?”
“No. A long way to go yet, I think we may be a little late.”
“Wait through the night. It may be dark, but morning will soon be here.”
Christmas preparations have stepped up a gear, the day is fast approaching. The presents are wrapped, the cards written, most of the food tightly packed in the fridge, and the ham is gently steaming on the hob. Family are on their way through the festive traffic jams, so there are still beds to make, and a mountain of other chores to do before they arrive.
Mary and Joseph are getting ready for their journey to Bethlehem. The donkey is saddled, some food packed, and a few simple baby clothes carefully stowed away, just in case.
Far away some oriental gentlemen are looking excitedly at the new star in the night sky. After checking their ancient writings, they have decided to saddle up their camels and follow the star in search of the new king it proclaims.
If yesterday was a day stuck between dark and light, for me today is a day stuck between death and life. We are in Advent, and yesterday I was looking forward to Christmas 2017, but today I am looking back to a very different Christmas in 2006. Eleven years ago today, after a short illness, my husband Geoff at the age of 51, passed from this life to the next, and I felt as though the world had ended. But the world didn’t end, I got used to a new normal, and here I am, eleven years on. My old plans and expectations were changed, I have changed. I have a wonderful daughter and son-in-law, a wonderful son and daughter-in-law, and also now a very wonderful grandson. I miss Geoff of course, even now, but life goes on, albeit different to what I had expected, and life is still good; very good. And as I look forward to this Christmas, I can see in the birth of Jesus that God is still good; very good.
Today is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere. It is the winter solstice. The sun is low in the sky, and it is the first official day of winter. It is a day stuck between dark and light, on the knife-edge between the seasons. This month, this week, every afternoon has been cut short by an ever earlier dusk, sometimes with a flurry of sunset red and gold, but fading quickly into black night. Today maybe the shortest day, but the hope of longer days dawns tomorrow, albeit very slight at first. The see-saw has fallen, light has won again; for a time.
But still we hold our breath and wait, for an everlasting light. A few more days of twinkling Christmas lights will lessen the gloom, for soon we will welcome the Light of the World, who seeks to take away the darkness within us, forever.
This morning is very different from yesterday, yet it seems somehow the same. The weather is a little warmer, and the sky is no longer clear blue, but soft grey. There is no sparkling rime of frost, no crackle of ice underfoot; instead there is a chill dampness in the atmosphere, and the bushes and plants are bedewed with water droplets.
Like yesterday, the air is still. Smoke from the chimney drifts and drops, then lazily oozes down the sloping roof. It is quiet, and even the birds are silent. It is as if the world is waiting, holding it’s breath. As if something is about to happen.
This morning is cold. A thick frost lies heavily on the grass. Long thin contrails criss-cross the expanse of watery blue sky, while streaks of clouds meander way up high, like tattered curtains.
Everything is still, there is no breeze to stir the last remaining leaves clinging to the old oak tree. Through the frosty air comes the sound of birds chattering excitedly. Do they know that Christmas is coming? Do they feel a tremor of hope in the air?
Yesterday I was given a lovely apricot coloured patio rose and a ceramic pot to put it in. So this afternoon I planted it. I thought it would be straightforward, just planting a small rose in a pot, but it wasn’t. First of all I couldn’t get the rose out of the plastic pot. It should have come out easily, but it didn’t. I poked around with a trowel, pulled gently, gave it a good shaking, and finally it came out. I put the rose into the pot, and back filled with compost. Then I stood back ready to take a photo to send to the person who gave it to me, and with disappointment I realised the rose was not standing up straight, but had gone in with a rather pronounced tilt. I now had a choice; I could leave it as it was and hope it would straighten as it grew; or I could do something about it. I decided to try to straighten it, so I put a small stake in the pot, but when I stood back I could see the rose was still pulling to the side, and the stake made it look messy. So I removed the stake, and dug up the rose and started again. This time I took more care, making sure I held the rose straight while I slowly put compost in bit by bit. Finally I stood back, and could see that all my effort was worth it – the rose was now standing up straight. I gave it a good watering, took a photo and sent it to my friend.
Forgive the analogy, but I think there are times in our lives when God wants to do a similar thing in us. We may suddenly become aware there is something wrong deep inside us, and we realise we have been growing crookedly in our pots for a long time. It maybe that terrible things have happened to us in the past, or maybe not so terrible things that have still marred and marked us, and caused our growth to be stunted or somehow askew. Over the years we have probably found ways of coping, but there can come a time when God can re-plant us and help us to grow straight. It won’t be comfortable, being uprooted, shaken free of what holds us, our roots bare, and we will probably want some good, experienced friends to help us get through it. But God is a careful gardener, and He will do it as gently as He can. And from my own experience I can tell you it will be well worth the effort.