Thursday, 15 December 2016



Luke 2:8-14
"Do not be afraid; for see -- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people."

Last Sunday evening Isobel and I watched a recent TV adaptation of Peter Pan and Wendy, the famous book by J.M. Barrie.  Entitled Peter and Wendy, the story is retold through the imagination of a young girl named Lucy who is about to receive hospital treatment for a serious heart condition. Prior to her operation, which nearly ends in her death, Lucy reads Barrie's book to a group of other seriously ill children in hospital.  And then, as she sleeps that night before her operation, she dreams the story.  It is, as one commentator puts it, a "startling fantasy of a brave, imaginative and utterly modern young girl who fears her illness might mean that she, like Peter Pan, may never grow up." 

You probably know the story well from your own childhood, and may have read it to your children -- or grandchildren. It is all about children dreaming of remaining children forever in Neverland. They dream of never having to grow up and take on adult responsibilities, like being parents themselves.  Sadly, the young son of James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, died young.  He never grew up.  Which is the reason why Barrie wrote the book. But otherwise we all have to grow up, we cannot live forever in Neverland.  We have to leave our childhood behind. 

But every year as Christmas approaches we are all invited to become children again with all children, and hear the angels sing and rediscover the joy of Christmas.  We might have left our childish naiveté behind, but there is the need to discover the importance of a second naiveté, not being childish but becoming childlike again.  This means recovering the ability to imagine and working for  a different world. A world of faith in a time of cynicism, a world of hope in a time of fear, and a world of love in a time of hate.  Yes, especially at this moment as the people of Aleppo suffer so terribly, and  where the dreams of children have become nightmares, we have to celebrate Christmas and dream with them for a world of peace on earth.  To celebrate Christmas means, in fact, that we refuse to surrender to the Herods of this world who make war, sow hatred, and cause children to suffer.  We dare not be like Scrooge in Dickens' Christmas Carol, who pooh-poohed all this celebration Christmas as romantic nonsense. "If I could work my will," he shouted to the Ghost of Bob Marley, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."  No, we turn our backs on both Herod and Scrooge and go with the Shepherds to Bethlehem to celebrate the joy of the birth of Christ.  

But even without Scrooge to make us all miserable, it is sometimes very difficult to be merry at Christmas if you have lost a loved one during the year, or suffered serious illness, or you are lying in bed with pain, or separated by distance from your family, or living in poverty and surrounded by violence.  But, then, being joyful is something deeper than being merry. We can still have a joyful Christmas even if it is full of sadness, or even anger at those who are responsible for war and violence. Mary's joy at the birth of Jesus was qualified by her premonition that he would one day suffer, and that she would have to bear that pain with him.  Mary's joy remained even when she and Joseph fled as refugees into Egypt.  Being joyful at Christmas with Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds is celebrating the birth of new possibilities, new hope for the world, and affirming the power of love as that will finally conquer all.  For this is what the message of Christmas is about, and why we should not be afraid but be joyful.

There was a line in Peter and Wendy that struck me as I was thinking about how we can celebrate Christmas joyfully: "parents remember to keep the window open!"  That is, keep them open so that your children can fly out into their dream world, yet always find their way home when reality strikes and the time of dreaming comes to an end.  But we also need to keep our windows open so that the Spirit of Christ can enter our homes and lives to drive out the demons of despair and fear, cynicism and hatred, and fill us with the joy of Christmas. 

But this also this means allowing Christ  to bring with him through the window all those he wants to bring to the party to share our joy.   We might not be able to do much for all those Syrian children whose faces are etched with hunger and pain, but let us at least make Christmas joyful for all those children within our reach so they may experience the love of God which came to earth on Christmas day. And, then, what about those who have been shut out of our lives during the year?  What about those whom we have wronged, or who have in some way wronged us, people from whom we have become estranged?  Is Christmas not the time to open our windows so that they may return with Christ into our lives through forgiveness and acceptance?  Christmas becomes joyful when we embrace them with the love of Christ, for that is why Christ was born in the first place -- to reconcile us to God and one another.  

Yet the circle of embrace extends further, in fact the window needs to be opened as wide as possible so that Christ can bring others into our midst as well.  Those we too often forget, those for whom Christmas means being lonely, those in hospital, those too poor to make Christmas special for their children, those who live in fear, those who are victims of injustice and violence, those who are calling for a "black Christmas" because there is still far too much corruption and racism in our land. 

Imagine if we all became like children again this Christmas!  Imagine if we dreamed dreams of a better world and committed ourselves to making it so.  Imagine if we opened wide our windows to allow Christ to come and join our celebrations and bring with him those he wants us to meet and embrace.  There is no reason why we can't have both a merry and a joyful Christmas, but if it is only merry and not joyful then we have forgotten what it is all about.  Christ brings joy to the world and invites us to share that joy with him and therefore with all for whom he came to seek and save.

"Do not be afraid; for see -- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people."

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 15 December 2016

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