I don't know whether it's just me, but the Lord seems to have a habit of flagging up the irony of the whole thing at this time of year. You can pretty much guarantee that however well things are going for me the rest of the year, by the time Christmas comes around, something has happened to turn life sour. This year it's to do with the bank and the phone call they made me earlier this week. The timing made it a phone call worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge.
This isn't a sympathy drive, by the way. This is just a reflection on how irony -- the main theme of my life, as I've probably said several times -- is central to the Christmas story. The beginnings of Jesus' life (setting aside arguments over how historically reliable the gospel account is) are every bit as ironic as the end of his life. What could compare to the irony of a crucified Messiah? Try the King of the Universe born into a trough and receiving a bunch of sheepherding peasants as his first guests.
I think it's the irony of the gospel that has kept me clinging to it despite change of mind I've been through the last few years. It's an irony that resonates with me and is true to my experience -- that riches come out of great poverty, and life comes out of death. Hell, if I didn't believe all that, what hope would I have when the shit hits the fan? To me, death is just a precursor of resurrection.
One of my enduring Christmas memories is of standing in the middle of a hospital ward, in only my dressing gown and slippers, reading John Betjeman's poem Christmas to a dozen old ladies. It was another of those ironic festive moments -- me spending the week before Christmas 2001 in hospital (gallstones, *ouch*) with a bunch of old dears for company. I love the way Betjeman (right) encapsulates the irony and the meaning of Christmas in the last few verses. I'll leave you with them as I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.
And is it true? and is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.