The Christmas story, from one point of view, is one of dislocation. Mary and Joseph, along with thousands of others, are compelled to travel to their home town to be registered in a Roman census. Poets, preachers, and artists, have all dwelt on the difficulties of that journey and the hardship of finding no accommodation but the stable (Mary being great with child). While the circumstances are very different from our own, we can perhaps identify with that sense of dislocation, of being in wrong place, as we continue to struggle with the Covid restrictions, the separation from families and friends, and continuing anxiety about our own health and the health of others.
Since last Christmas, we have had to learn a whole new way of social interaction: keeping our distance, wearing our masks, meeting by zoom, working from home, avoiding travel, missing family occasions and the company of friends: it has been dislocating, occasionally funny, more often depressing and disappointing. And some of us have lost loved ones whom we shall not see again, and to whom we may not even have been able properly to say goodbye. Our world is not so different from the world into which the Christchild was born: a dislocated world, a downtrodden world, a world which St John, in the famous prologue to his gospel, describes as ‘darkness’.
But St John also tells us that the Word (his title for Jesus Christ) ‘became flesh and lived among us’. St John wrote in Greek and the word ‘lived’ literally means ‘pitched his tent’. That’s not so different from St Luke’s story of the makeshift accommodation in the stable. The arrangements for the birth of Christ were makeshift, the conditions difficult, the surroundings cold and uncomfortable: yet God knowingly, lovingly, made his home, pitched his tent, among us. The God in whom Christians believe and whom Christians adore is a God at home in a dislocated world, familiar with the griefs and hardships of human living.
In the course of the past fifteen months, I have had the happiness of becoming a grandfather twice over. My first granddaughter, a Yorkshire lass, was born before the lockdown, but plans for her baptism were delayed and deferred, as so many family gatherings have been. My second granddaughter, a Brummie lass, was born during the lockdown, and face-to-face meetings have been extremely difficult. And yet, there is something about the birth of a child that turns the world inside out, and puts everything else into a different perspective. Whether it is our own child, or grandchild, or niece or nephew or godchild or child of a friend or neighbour, we feel an injection of absolutely new hope, something wonderfully new and original and full of promise.
And what we all feel at the arrival of a new baby, Christians feel in a similar way about the birth of the Christchild. Here is new life, new hope, something original and full of promise, something which turns the old world inside out, and floods a dark world with light.