BUT IS IT TRUE?
Jesus’ mother was Mary, My mother was Dorothy. So what? Well, quite a lot actually. Mother’s help make us who we are.
Tossed with a sparrow and lost
My mother was prejudiced, opinionated, a dangerously one-eyed, pugnaciously loyal mother and wife. A bundle of blazing bias, a fiery little dame, supported by a pair of legs so slim that my father used to say she had tossed with a sparrow and lost.
From her I inherited and acquired prejudices, biases, quirks and idiosyncrasies that have stood me in good stead all my life.
The gift she passed on to me that I most value, is a literary bias and bent which led me to study literature at university, and so to begin a long development and process towards the recognition of reality as being something fluid, elusive, ambivalent, ambiguous, paradoxical, ungraspable, and to an impatience with dull questions such as: “but is it true?” or, “did it really happen,” or “can you prove it?”
When you enter the realm of narrative or story, be it fiction, biography, autobiography or Gospel, what you read or hear is always both true and untrue I have told you a few biographical details about my mother, my brother would dispute them, my sister and wife likewise, or else, at least, radically qualify them, and yet all our accounts are, in some real sense, true.
Dull dogs ask only, did it happen?
In Jesus, God was born not so much into a stable, manger, or loving home, as into a story, a narrative, a jumble, an impossible mix, of fact and fiction, history and legend, reality, unreality.
Dull dogs ask only, did it happen? Is it true? How can it be?
Those with imagination, lose themselves in the story, enter into its spirit, become a part of the story, and in so doing see a dimension of truth to reality that transcends mere fact and evidence truth to live by, truth to carol alleluias to, truth to make sense of life and death and history and world, truth that enhances and enriches one’s life.
To read the story aright, is to realise that the deepest wonder and truth of the Christmas part of the Christian story, is not singing angels, star-struck Wise Men, and virginal conception.
The miracle of miracles
The miracle of miracles is God and goodness as real, yes, but more significantly as compatible with humanity. Moreover humanity as vulnerable, ordinary, obscure, unremarkable. A Jewish baby in a minor provincial town of a tin pot nation.
A baby with no halo, no numinous aura, just a baby, and a strange rumour or two.
A baby who, even as an adult, would demonstrate that Godlikeness in our world is most completely and authentically seen, not so much in sideshow achievements like walking on water, or turning water into wine, as by far, far more difficult and significant achievements such as loving one’s enemies, and the outcast, and the diseased, and by courage that doesn’t run away from crucifixion, but faces judicial murder head on, convicted, not for any wrongdoing, but on the contrary for loving, and for loveliness and for a relationship with God and others, that mended fences, forgave enemies, brought folk full face to God.
To the connoisseur the story coheres
How impoverished the birth of Jesus story would be, though, without stable, manger, star, wise men, carolling angels and so on. They are not essential, they are not core truth, St John and St Mark omit them altogether, but although secondary in one sense, they do, nonetheless, in the narrative as story, possess a fundamental authenticity.
For a start they make important theological points and Old Testament links and so are not as naive or artless as we might think.
But to the connoisseur of stories and literature what is best about the angels, manger and virgin birth material is that it is all, in a strange way, so fitting. The story hangs together as story, it coheres.
The glory and majesty of the infant Jesus celebrated by those bucolic shepherds, and by angels and strange foreigners, is so appropriately different from glory and majesty as assumed and flaunted by our world’s politicians, leaders and celebrities, who are represented in the story by Herod, with his devious, murderous, political solution of infanticide.
Babies in Darfur and so many other places are killed, blown up or starve to death, in true Herod fashion still today angels too, surely carol those poor, doomed, ordinary Christ-like little mites.
The fundamental wonder of wonders, even in the birth stories themselves, remains the sheer ordinariness of it all, dirt, poverty, desperation, obscurity, commonplace, unimportant, shoved around, bullied, common people, and God therefore able to be God, as truly and ordinarily one of us,
Not necessarily a stranger even in my shabby little life story or yours, tied to us all as he is, by the curly, slippery umbilical cord of ordinariness.
The umbilical cord of ordinariness and love
How I love, it all, this story of stories, How glad that my life is immersed in it, connected to it, and that daily at the altar I experience eternity and time intersecting, ordinary bread and wine as somehow shot through with the divine, just like Jesus’s birth, heaven joining earth, by way of an extraordinarily ordinary umbilical cord of love.
Jesus, God, the divine, compatible with, alive in, ordinary me and you, known to be so, not in the flash, bang wallop of tinselled miracle, tawdry celebrity or mindless certainty, but in daily life’s ordinary, ordinary, love, sacrifice, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, joy.
Where else in present day materialistic society is this miraculous ordinariness celebrated so unequivocally, enacted so regularly, outlined, aspired to, enshrined, manger-ed, than in Church and Christianity?
This Church we sit in, is not only the most beautiful building in Shepparton, it is also its heart, its cradle, its manger, its salvation....
Congratulations for reading the story aright and so coming to retell and relive it with us this Midnight, Well done. God bless you. Happy Christmas.