You can read her whole post here.
If you don’t normally attend church at Whitehouse (welcome!) or you don’t know who I am, my name is Anna and I’m not from here.
I’m over from the States to spend a year here, living in Belfast and working at Whitehouse.
This is my first-ever Christmas away from home. While I certainly miss being at home with friends and family, what I miss most these days is the familiarity of Christmas. I don’t know this to be a fact, but I would hazard a guess that Christmas has more traditions surrounding it than any other time of the year. We sing the same songs, eat the same food, and visit the same family at the same time.
One thing you may not know about me is that I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I like to know as much as possible before I….No. I like to know as much as possible. Full stop.
I tell you that because while I could describe to you, at length, the Christmas traditions of the state of South Carolina, in Belfast I am humbled on a daily basis, because so much of what is tradition here is brand new to me. I’m a trained singer, and I don’t know half of the beloved carols. I never know exactly what’s going on, and I often feel as if I’m working with as little information as possible.
Spending Christmas away from the familiar has allowed me to relate to the nativity story in a completely new way. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually related to it much in the first place. I’ve never had an angel visit me in a dream and tell me that I was going to give birth to the Son of God, for instance. But Mary and Joseph were very much away from the familiar. In fact, nothing about that first Christmas would have been familiar to anyone in the story we know so well.
In the States, we have a term for that, and it comes from the great American pastime – baseball. What happens to Mary and Joseph, as we’ve seen tonight, is known as a curveball. You see, when you throw a baseball, it normally just goes in a relatively straight line, until the batter hits it, the catcher catches it, or it hits the ground because gravity has taken its course. But there’s a technique to throwing a baseball in which the ball will curve in its trajectory, and you usually can’t see that it’s curved until it’s right in front of you. Curveballs allow almost no time for the batter to adjust his stance, and are therefore notoriously difficult to hit.
When Mary receives the news from the angel Gabriel that she’s going to be pregnant with the Son of God – that’s a curve ball.
When Joseph realizes that his fiancé is pregnant and he isn’t the father – that’s a curve ball.
When they can’t find a place to stay on their journey and the baby is born amongst dirty, stinky animals – that’s a curve ball.
Life is constantly throwing us curve balls. We lose our jobs. Our relationships end. Our loved ones die suddenly. It’s chaos. It’s messy. It’s scary.
You know, the Son of God had been predicted and prophesied for hundreds of years. Religious leaders of the time believed that God would come down in a blaze of glory – a man who would be larger than life, atop a flaming chariot with a horse made of gold or something. But this God, our God, chose to enter our world as an infant; born to two people who just went with the curve balls they’d been thrown.
I’d like to see the real nativity portrayed. A terrified, teenage girl with no midwife; a young man who would have never been present at a birth, pacing backwards and forwards, mopping the sweat off of his brow and muttering to himself; animals and all of the sounds and smells that come with them. This is the scene where God puts skin on. This chaos. This mess.
The nativity story isn’t one that was only relevant two thousand years ago. In the same way that the Christ-child was physically born, he is born in us again – into the chaos and the mess and the fear of our lives.
We don’t have to give much. We don’t have to have much. We don’t have to be perfect or have it all together or even know what’s going on most of the time. We just have to be willing.
I hope that your celebrations tomorrow are filled with the joy and hope and love of Christ. I also hope you’ll take the time to reflect on the staggering reality and significance of the birth of the Son of God into the unfamiliar, and into the reality of our own lives.
Over the past four weeks, we’ve lit four candles: one for hope, one for joy, one for peace and one for love. And tonight we light the one that signifies the manifestation of all of those things in the world: the Christ candle.
I hope you’ll notice, as the light from this candle moves around the room, that even though some of us are close to Christ candle and some are far away, the candles at the farthest corners will shine with the same intensity as those closest to the source.