When I was a child December seemed to stretch forever, day after day, marked out in little cardboard doors, tantalisingly keeping me from the apex of the excitement, the best day of the year: Christmas Day. The air seemed almost to sparkle, there were endless excitements, carol concerts, plays, parties and treats, baking, decorations, pantomimes, a sense of goodwill seemed to pervade. There were the yearly rituals, watching the Blue Peter team lighting the advent candles, helping to decorate the tree, going to the church to watch the familiar story acted out. Then my one night of the year of excited insomnia before the Big Day with all its stockings and presents and turkey and crackers.
But Christmas now, where has the magic gone? Now December seems a different sort of time-warp, the days falling over themselves in their rush to get away before Christmas looms. Days full of lists of presents to be bought, cards to be sent, jobs to be done. The reality of the work behind the sparkle hitting home.
Now instead there are small, quiet compensations for the onset of age, the satisfaction of choosing just the right present, the happiness of cards sent and appreciated, meeting old friends in the box of decorations, the heady spiced whiff of mixing Christmas cakes and puddings. While that feeling of Christmas joy and magic is more fleeting, glimpsed occasionally in a child's face or conjured up from turning on the Christmas lights at dusk and watching them make the glitter come to life in a quiet twinkling glow. Light coming into the darkness.
Light coming into the darkness, that's what it is about in the end, hope coming into the world as the nights draw in. Trying to find time, amidst the lists, to remember the first Christmas in all its ragged perfection.
Since I started this meditation a few days ago the weight of expectation and waiting has increased, I have slowed down (responding to the aide memoire of a two week headache) and the days seem to have joined me. I am grateful for the slowing of the days and for the time to think, if not for the illness that creates this time. The wind whistles and howls around the house with occasional breaks for glorious mild sunshiny winter days and a feeling of Christmastime has crept into the house on the heels of gingerbread and carols. At the same time I have remembered some of the reality behind those painfully exciting childhood Christmasses, such as the year I slept so little on Christmas Eve that I was tearfully exhausted by seven and wasted precious hours of Christmas day in an early bedtime. Christmases pile up memory and experience in layers, each bringing a part of themselves to each new Christmas; while my understanding grows and changes, of what Christmas meant and means. I go again to the child in the manger and the light come into the world, and begin to ponder the Christ who will come again and the double waiting of Advent.
Charles Wesley's hymn Come Thou Long Expected Jesus is a current favourite, I especially love this version by a band called Kings Kaleidoscope
Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring
By thine own eternal spiritCome Lord Jesus, into this dark world, bring your light, your presence and your kingdom. Thank you for Christmas, in all its meanings, Amen
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne