Thought for the month
What happens to Jesus now?
‘What happens to Jesus now?’ a little girl asked me at the end of the crib service on Christmas Eve as we stood looking at the nativity characters. ‘He stays here for a while’, I replied, ‘and then he gets put back in the cupboard until next year’. ‘Oh,’ said the girl as she walked off, ‘that’s sad.’
Later as I was tidying up I found myself looking at the stained glass window above where we had been chatting. The window tells two stories – there’s Mary and Joseph with the baby and shepherds kneeling at the manger; but right next to it is the crucifixion scene. The baby adored by angels and worshipped by shepherds and wise men is now the man hanging on a cross.
The artist who brought the two scenes together in the stained-glass window knew that Christmas and Easter must be connected – that life and death, glory and agony, darkness and light are all part of the same story. The joy of the baby is not his capacity to take our troubles away but his capacity to make sense of our lives.
I was very aware of this at the West Berkshire Crematorium carol service where I had been invited to give the talk. Hearing the Christmas story and singing carols with those who have recently been bereaved reminded me that the power of the story lies in this connection between birth and death. The whole story sounded different in the crematorium, and as we lit candles in memory of our loved ones, the words of the prophet Isaiah heard every Christmas, took on new depth – ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’
That’s what the stained-glass window is saying, that’s what so many of the Christmas carols are about, and that’s the hope at the heart of the Christian faith – God’s love confronting the darkness, not ignoring it or bypassing it, but entering into our frailty to reveal the power of this love to bring new life.
Jesus grows up; and although we might be tempted to leave him forever young as the Christmas baby he is quickly on the move. As the poet, Malcolm Guite, puts it –
“We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.”
The season of Lent which begins this month is a time to move on with Jesus, to accompany him on the ‘long road of weariness of want’, the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the road which faces the darkness and finds the light.
Revd Becky Bevan