A Christmas Star

A Christmas Star

2020 has been a very difficult year for many. In a sense, of course, every year is difficult – it is subjective. In 1992 the Queen spoke publicly of her own ‘annus horribilis’ after the breakdown of her children’s marriages and the fire at her Windsor home.

2016 was my horrible year, or horrible anus, as I like to call it. It seems rather apt for a prostate biopsy.

The troubles that arrived for me and my family in the form of this cancer diagnosis have not gone away, but we have all learned to live and laugh again and, though it might sound like a dreadful cliche, we are all the stronger and more united for it.

It was love that carried us through.

I mean to say that we all suffer trials and loss, sadness and sickness, pain and injustice at some time or other in our lives, but how we respond to these times and learn from them is very much down to us.

In an age of aggressive secular relativism, it’s important to remind ourselves that there is such a thing as truth and goodness in this uncertain world of ours. Or else, what hope is there?

Entropy may be the natural state of our earthly, physical existence but the meaning we all crave is not found merely in the physical. 

As we rapidly approach Christmas, I have begun to think of it, not as a time of excess or a closure to a difficult year, but as the offer of a new beginning- a renewed hope.

The clue is the name- Christmas, or Christ’s birth – and the birth of a baby is the most joyful of new beginnings and a cause for celebration.

I am also reminded of my dear old mum who died last year and would have been ninety on Christmas Day, so it has for me a particular poignancy.

The things worth having in life are not things we can click and collect or have delivered to our doors, (having a young adult daughter in the house, means that I am constantly opening the door to couriers) but are found in intangible things like hope and love.

The gospel of Matthew, written in the first century AD, quotes the words of Jesus, who tells us not to lay up treasures for ourselves here on earth:

‘But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

If you have ever sought such treasures here on earth, you will realise that their shine is only temporary and these words are true.

It means giving what we can to help others – our time and talents, our love and also our possessions for those in need.

And if we could only learn to put aside our own ego and love others as ourselves, as God invites us to do, I’m sure the world would be a much better place.

It seems to me that all men worship at one altar or another or even see themselves as the only god they need- their own little idiotic collection of random nerves and impulses.

I’m not quite sure why anyone could ask me to put my faith in such petty theories. I can barely trust my own thoughts and motives without serious contemplation, let alone second guessing those of another. 

Yes, I feel certain of it; the only decision for us is which god to choose. What we cannot do is sit on the fence; eventually we must come down on one side or the other. And if you believe that there is no objective source of truth, no objective moral standard, why should i listen to you?

A couple of days ago we held another street party, this time in the form of a Christmas Carol Concert as the local churches all seem to be closed to business.

Michelle and I returned home from walking the dogs to hear Boris’ announcement that Christmas was cancelled and that the relaxation of rules for five days was no longer possible due to a new, more transmissible form of the coronavirus.

I opened an official looking letter that had dropped onto the doormat to find that the local hospital had booked me in for a bone scan on New Year’s Eve.

Neither event could dampen my spirits as we went outside to begin the concert in the early evening darkness.

One neighbour had set up a sound system and the niece of another, who happens to sing in the National Choir, was about to kick off with a solo rendition of O Holy Night.

The threatening clouds lowered just below the south west horizon to reveal the planets, Jupiter and Saturn, that were about to come into their closest alignment since 1226. It is a rare and great conjunction, known as the Christmas star, due to their appearance as a single bright light to the naked eye.

As Poppy began to sing, the hair on the back of my neck stood to attention and I felt the warm glow of neighbourly love. Or it might have been the glass of Tarquins figgy pudding gin and mulled wine that Michelle had just pressed into my palm.

All the same, it was magical.

“Oh holy night

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear saviour’s birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth”

She sang like a Robin at dusk giving its all.

Next up was the nativity classic, O Little Town of Bethlehem and we were invited to join in- an assortment of roosting corvids to Poppy’s Nightingale.

It was with great relief that we sighed the closing words,

“…our Lord Emmanuel.”

I sipped my hot wine and gazed up at the Christmas Star. 

Emmanuel means ‘God with us’ and that is what we Christians celebrate.

The Jews had expected their messiah to be a powerful King who would come to rescue them from oppression and suffering, not a child who would be born into a war-torn country in the most difficult and humble of circumstances and who would join in their suffering.

His life would embody love, compassion and healing and his death and resurrection signified that something new had happened in the world. The kingdom of which he spoke was both here and now, and not yet- a joining of the physical and the spiritual; a joining of heaven and earth: or if you will, a great conjunction.

So you see, Christmas is not cancelled at all. We are all invited to join in.

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