I started these posts to try and get some answers. There was nothing at all ambitious or delusional about thinking that I could, in twenty-four posts, nail the answers to questions that have puzzled mankind for as long as there’s been mankind to be puzzled. But I’m half way through now, and I feel I should be getting somewhere. Brexit is as opaque as it’s always been, only now it’s red, white and blue, so we all know where we are. Donald Trump hasn’t been impeached or imprisoned, and the Russian interference in the American elections really doesn’t seem to be bothering him much. The news gets worse every day, and all I’ve managed is an imaginary angel with purple wings and a Prince fetish, and a real one with a high-vis jacket and a coffee.
If Advent was counting down to Easter, it might be easier. Easter is about a death. Easter is about a man who spoke the truth to power being crucified. A human being, stretched on a cross and nailed to it, through flesh and bone. We are seeing equally brutal and senseless deaths every day, if we can bear to look at the news, and impending darkness feels a far more likely prospect than a host of angels, purple-winged or not. It might be easier to write about how no amount of hygge and chocolate truffles can barricade us against the intrusion of death, than to engage with the build-up of joy that is Advent.
Advent, though, is not counting down to a death, but to a birth. The carols and the cards all deal with a bonny baby, usually white-skinned, with a halo of some sort and a lot of very well-behaved animals. People bring gifts of varying utility (if you do know anyone who’s due to give birth soon, might I recommend some nutritious meals for their freezer and a pack of three-to-six month babygrows as an alternative to rare unguents associated with embalming?) and the only noise comes from the angels, whom we imagine sing rather nicely.
You don’t need to have had a baby to know that the image is complete poppycock. Even the most straightforward birth is no more calm and peaceful than Jesus himself was white. If we decide that Jesus was white and Mary had it easy, it’s no wonder we find it so straightforward to turn our backs on those in need. Birth is bloody painful, and it creates a lot of washing. As does the resulting baby. Donkeys don’t sit around meekly providing warmth until they’re needed for a quick getaway and angels don’t come in predictable packages. And those who come to adore the newborn, unless they’ve been introduced to my ‘twenty minutes and out unless you’re making a meal’ rule, are a nuisance.
If I am ever to come to any kind of grips with this advent project, it has to start with Jesus’ birth. And that birth has to be a real, human one. We are all guilty of staring out of our own travails at other people and thinking, Well, it’s ok for them. I’m not sure it was as ok for Mary and Joseph as our Christmas traditions would have us believe. And if I can start with the birth of a dark-skinned baby in a stable far from home, to a young girl taken by surprise and a man not really sure what he’s signed up for, maybe my attempt to join some dots for myself will bear fruit.