‘How are you?’ my colleagues at the law firm used to ask each other, when passing in the corridor. ‘Busy’ was always the response.
‘Busy’ was seen as: good, productive, profitable, contributing, being useful, being in control.
And whether our lives are being viewed, by colleagues at work, or by friends and family, on Facebook, we want to be seen as ‘busy’ getting what we can out of life, living the dream.
But that image of control, that ‘everything in the garden is lovely’, can, for some, conceal a deep seated fear, which sometimes bursts to the surface as anger, when things don’t go according to plan, when the internal reality, gets exposed.
A fear, perhaps, of what happens, if we don’t make our budget, a fear of what happens if we stop hurtling to the next thing: the next deal or the next project, or the next musical or sporting event for our children.
A fear of who we are, if, for some reason, be it redundancy, retirement or dismissal, we find ourselves no longer the solicitor, banker, accountant, newsreader, farmer or whatever, that we used to be that used to give us identity.
A fear of who we are, when the children we have spent half a lifetime bringing up, leave home; a fear of where we are going; a fear of what we are doing with our lives; for some, a fear of the question: what is the point of it all?
A realisation, perhaps, for many of us of the echoing emptiness in our hearts, a fear in the dark…
So we keep running and we don’t have to think too deeply because we are so busy and then the Christmas holiday comes round again a few days of quiet of absence from busyness.
Time to think; to think about where we are going, time to take stock of what we are doing with our lives…time to think, time to reflect, between Christmas and the New Year: time spent with relations, those who love us, but who ask us the annoying questions which we may have been trying to avoid year after year, the questions that the busyness, protects us from asking ourselves: so are you going to marry that girl? Are you still in that crazy job? So when are you going to have children?
One of my former colleagues a single woman in her thirties, used to be asked by her father, every year at this time, betraying his Iranian origin ‘Are you a donkey? Why are you working like that?’
Although Christmas has lost much of its original meaning in popular culture, this annual pause in our headlong pursuit of life, does have some resonance theologically with the original Christmas.
The birth of Christ can be seen theologically as a pause at the centre point of history: as that point between creation and the end of time; a pause between the moment God’s word spoke everything into existence and the time when Jesus will return in judgment and bring about a new heaven and a new earth
CS Lewis’ poem: ‘Turn of the Tide’ about the birth of Christ pictures this pause as a ‘deathly stillness’ spreading out from Bethlehem to Jerusalem from there round the world and then across the Cosmos.
The poem imagines that stillness echoing out across the universe: a stillness like the moment when the tide is neither going out nor coming in…a stillness which brings with it unease for the mighty.
Lewis pictures Caesar in Rome signing death warrants and a gloom stealing into his room and settling on his soul, indeed across the whole cosmos.
CS Lewis imagines ‘Great Galatic Lords standing back to back with their swords drawn feeling the stillness and wondering if this moment is the beginning of the end of their power and then Lewis describes the stillness ending like the tide turning and rushing in and music beginning, first small and then ‘divinely deep and louder’ and a quickening of excitement and joy as the poor, in the form of the shepherds and the wise, in form of the Magi turn towards ‘the cry of the One new born’: towards the light that shines in the darkness offering direction, and purpose, and meaning and love for everyone….
Do we hear that cry?
Do we see that light?
Do we hear that music?
The words of John 1 are so staggering in their weight and significance that I never cease to be blown away by them every year:
The Word – that logos who was present when the universe was created, and through whom all things came into being through whom all life in the universe started
That person who stepped down into our world as a human baby: Jesus of Nazareth into a minor planet, the earth orbiting a small star, our Sun, to be born in a stable in a little village on the outskirts of the Roman Empire
The one who came to share the suffering of our world caused by our sin, our repeated refusal, over generations and generations to live the way that our Creator designed us to live… and who came to provide for us a way out of the inevitable consequences of that sin: a way out which involves him carrying those consequences, rather than us, if we would only turn away from our sin; if we would only turn to him….if we would only approach that light; that music: the light in the darkness, the distant music…
In Ecclesiastes 3, the writer says God has set an eternity in the human heart; its that eternity in our hearts, that sense of unfulfilled desire, which is the echoing emptiness, the yearning, which we feel from time to time as we pause from all the busyness and reflect on our lives.
It’s that eternity in our hearts, which we encounter when we don’t know where we are going or what we are doing it all for….
In the same way that we have food to fill us when we are hungry, water to slake our thirst, and sex to satisfy our lust, CS Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity there must be some way of satisfying that yearning, that unfulfilled desire, that emptiness which we all feel from time to time
But there is no way in nature, no natural way of filling the empty eternity that we feel in our hearts, because alcohol, sex, drugs power and material things leave us still empty after their initial effects have worn off
But there is a supernatural way of filling this emptiness, this eternity which has been built into our hearts, there is a supernatural way of satisfying the yearning the desire
that we feel, as we pause at Christmas…
If we see a glimpse of the light in the dark empty space of our soul
If we feel the excitement of the distant music
The cry of the one new born,
Then we are being called:
We need to turn from our sin
We need to approach that light, draw close to that music
We need to approach Him
We need to enter the stable
And worship the King