“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
There are purpling jacarandas, already, in our paddocks and streets. As small children, our daughters learnt that as the jacaranda turns, so does our season, towards the harvest and Advent, then Christmas.
It was the first sign, bearing witness of the celebration and story to come.
The contracted lives we have led over these last two years, drawn into our homes and into our selves, has also mean a contraction of experience, of memories and therefore, markers for the weeks and months. Things that happened months ago seem like days, or weeks past and the last two years have collapsed into a journey hallmarked by “before COVID” and everything else.
It will be an extra challenge as we prepare for Christmas; creating and crafting worship for our congregation and community after finding our way in this uncertain terrain in which we have found ourselves. Many of us were confronted by bushfires two years ago, so we have been working ourselves out for a while.
Part of the recent destabilising is that many of us have an inner sense of how Christmas should be, how it should “feel”. It is hard to articulate, but we know it when we see – or feel – it. Paul Kelly will be making gravy, while Tim Minchin’s family will be drinking white wine in the sun; we have stories of our own which enable us to find our way.
Twenty years ago, soon after my mum had died, I visited Dad at our family home in the weeks before Christmas. As I entered, there was the sudden perfume of pine trees from the lounge room and, unbidden, memories of excitement and family and decorating the Christmas tree flooded through me.
In the heart of Christmas is a story which is, essentially, all of us – a baby, born. Something each one of us knows.
The angels and the magi, even the shepherds are not the sign of God in the world, but a tiny infant, at wondrous risk in the world, is the evidence of God being with us, with all creation.
Pause for a moment.
A baby asks something of us; care, protection, a cuddle. Immediately, we are engaged, and the story of God embraces us, as we embrace Emmanuel.