I have become increasingly tired and irritated at hearing people utter the phrase “That’s what Christmas is all about” when referring to a particularly well-cooked turkey or an unfeasibly large and discounted TV. What on earth has happened to us?
It feels harder and harder to find a way through the cynical exterior to reach a point where an alternative message about the meaning of Christmas has some sort of universal resonance, without disenfranchising someone or another.
When it was pointed out to me recently that women often know what it feels like to have tears in their ears it stopped me in my tracks. I pictured a prone body lying on her back in the dark silently weeping.
It was, strangely, the very image I had searched for in trying to encompass the various broader meanings of Christmas outside its, irrefutable, Christian basis.
When we weep for ourselves it must mean that we are worth weeping for, that we are valuable beyond the way that we might experience being treated. If compassion is in short supply elsewhere we can, at the very least, show a little to ourselves. When we do so it becomes contagious and radiates out from us onto others.
Looking back across the year, as is customary in these final few days, we appear to have lost so much humility. I don’t know what happened to admitting error or backtracking in the light of new and better information. Neither can I understand a seemingly creeping refusal to accept responsibility.
We make the world a much worse place when we are unable to accept our own vulnerability. Sadly it appears as if it is regarded increasingly as a weakness rather than the strength it undoubtedly is.
How refreshing it still is to have someone walk into my room, sit down and tearfully declare what a mess they have made of everything. It is a reminder that we still retain the ability not only to hold ourselves accountable but to try and find ways of working through it in a way which leads us back to some semblance of order and emotional wellbeing.
Vulnerability is one of our greatest strengths. The wit to see our errors and to take hold of them, turn them around and declare to the world our own fragility. “I am only a human”. What happened to that and where on earth is it in our leaders?
But through it all, there are thankfully still shards of light.
When Tom was telling me about his day at work he said he’d bought a homeless man a cup of coffee and a bar of chocolate. They’d wished each other a Merry Christmas. Momentarily joined through their humanity regardless of their vastly different life positions.
The impact on me was a little overwhelming. A grateful glimpse of the man my son has grown up to be juxtaposed with my frustration and fury that people should still be homeless in my country in 2018. But also a sense of hope that whatever happens and however bad it gets there will always be enough of us for whom “what Christmas is all about” means something much more than “all the trimmings”
I realise why the image of the woman lying with tears in her ears is so powerful and so relevant. It is an image of compassion for herself, an admission of vulnerability. But something in it also conveys hope.
There is a singular defiance. A refusal to be bowed down by even the hardest fall. It speaks to me of rest and replenishing before rising up again.
Only the strongest of us are able to tolerate the feeling of tears in our ears.
So the next time I hear someone suggest that their chestnut and cranberry stuffing is what Christmas is all about I’ll laugh and remind myself that the Christmas story is actually about something much more significant. It is about compassion for all of mankind including ourselves. It is about a willingness to be as vulnerable as a child born in a stable. But most of all it is about the enduring existence of hope, and that truth and goodness will ultimately prevail if we determine it should be so.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas.