Hidden by Tissued Fripparies

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

In his poem „Christmas“, John Betjeman describes a very ordinary run up to Christmas. He talks about decorating the church, travelling home to family on a dark, rainy evening, and the excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve as a child. This year, Christmas will not feel ordinary for many of us. We have had no carol service, Christmas services will feel very different, many of us will not be travelling home, there will be no carol singing, no visit from the Sternsingers, no office parties, and no large family gatherings.

I chose Betjeman’s normal Christmas poem this week because at its end, it also brings the nativity story into the same hyper-real context in which it starts.

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 today in Bread and Wine.

from „Christmas“ by John Betjeman

It is, of course, often trite to say that Christmas should mean more than presents and lots of food. This is where poetry can help us: by looking at a familiar idea from an unfamiliar angle. But maybe this year we will all be forced to look at Christmas from a slightly unusual angle. If we are missing our usual seasonal rituals, if hideous ties and bath salts are in short supply, there is an idea that we may be emboldened to imagine: that God was born for us in Bethlehem, and the love we put into preparing gifts for our family and friends is a shadow of His love for us.

So if this poem can help bring the Christmas story out of the familiar and into the real, maybe a Corona Christmas can do the same. Betjeman describes the Christmas Truth as being hidden by „tissued fripparies“. But if this Truth is real, it is also robust; it still stands if even more of life‘s familiar features are pared back than could ever be removed. Take away goodwill to all, a family’s love, worship, community and even charity, and the Truth remains unchallenged. God mildly laid his glory down and was born for us 2000 years ago in Palestine.

This is a hard Truth to imagine, and maybe an even harder Truth to accept. But I pray that this year’s upheaval might give us all the courage to imagine God’s Truth and the boldness to take it into our hearts.

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