Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
Year A - Christmas Eve - Tuesday, December 24, 2013
|The monastery's St Augustine Church all decked out for Midnight mass.|
I grew up in Scotland when it was still pretty Calvinist. Christmas was not a holiday for most people…there was a war going on and that made things even more austere. My father always worked. The Kirk didn’t have services unless Christmas was on a Sunday… popish, you see. We celebrated at home with a good dinner and a clootie dumpling (look it up!) but what we were really looking forward to was New Year – Hogmanay.
I remember well the bleakness of the war years and the lightening up of peacetime. We immigrated to this country on December 21st and I thought America was all light…Christmas trees everywhere, presents wrapped in shiny paper with ribbons (not brown paper packages tied up with strings). Tinsel and bells… and parties with plenty of food. You people knew how to party.
It took a little while to see beneath the glitter to the ordinary human sorrows. It took some time for me to acknowledge the fear of knowing that underneath I was more different that even my accent showed. I went to an all white school – class of ’54 and laughed at the boys who wore green on Thursdays with a lump in my throat that somebody would find out. One of the misfits, one of the lonely ones.
But each year God intruded and comforted again when the magic, loving time of Christmas came…and I could go alone to Church at midnight and step into the mystery of a love that broke through any darkness the year could have brought, finding comfort in a mothering, fathering God.
So many memories… I’m sure you’re remembering right now, too. Here in this holy space which is so full of prayer…
But one memory in particular stands out for me. Our first Christmas pageant in South Africa. Most of the local children had been unchurched when we got there and our Young Adult Service Corps volunteer took it upon herself to organize a pageant. She worked very hard with those kids. They had it down pat. We invited people from the town and the cathedral to see this triumph. The church was full.
It started off fine - the narrator set the stage and then Gabriel appeared. She was six feet tall in a bed sheet with a tinsel halo. Mary was perfect, quiet in blue. Joseph didn’t know exactly what was going on but then, he never really did anyway! Gabriel made her announcement - Mary froze; Gabriel announced again – Mary stayed frozen. And again – frozen. Finally, Gabriel lost it, swore at Mary, ripped off her halo and threw it at the Virgin. Joseph, God bless him, still didn’t know what was going on. The shepherds decided to rescue the performance with a dance that made Miley Cyrus look staid. The director started bawling and the congregation went into hysterical laughter. Even the mothers were in stitches.
I loved it! I treasure the memory. Afterwards, we all had a cup of tea and recovered our composure.
Since then there have been beautiful Christmases. Since then, we’ve built more memories sharing them together here. But I go back often to that vivid memory of a bunch of young people who got so lost in and bewildered by a strange story; to the young volunteer who so wanted to do it perfectly and didn’t realize that she had. To the congregation of blacks and whites in rural South Africa who had a raucous good time together all unselfconsciously.
It was perfect because that’s how Jesus always comes. Not into the sweetness but into the mess of life. Mary’s there, timid and fearful. Giving birth away from home and comfort; Joseph holds his little wife clumsily because what does he know? And like the shepherds of Mariya uMama weThemba we don’t know what to do either and if we have sense we dance and rejoice. It’s a bittersweet story… of poignancy and tragedy… of refugees trying to get their documents. People with unknown futures and pasts we often can’t talk about.
We get lost somewhere in the middle of the story…lost with our memories, our sadness, our longing and our loneliness. And Gabriel pitches her halo at us and says “Glory, Glory – pay attention, people, Glory!”
The world is still a mess. Children are born under bridges. Mothers aren’t all lucky enough to have a kindly Joseph. Fat cats still dominate, wars still destroy the innocent, gun are given as presents. But the memory of goodness and possibilities and love inexplicable survives and blooms and the promise of this night is that the light will come and a baby’s cry will break through. And that cry is the cry of God with us …now , tonight, in this place, in our midst, in our selves.