I don’t know about you, but I find Christmas a hard time to handle. Every year, I am confronted by the clash between fantasy and reality: the fantasy, in which the community of faith gathers to hear the story and celebrate, and the reality, where most people will be away, attending family functions in other places. The fantasy, where I am surrounded by a big family and am nurtured by older women, and the reality, in which I have a tiny family, and have been the oldest woman for nearly two decades. The fantasy, that in lieu of a big family I could invite a host of “widows and orphans” to the table, and the reality, that my children want a closed table on this one special day.
No doubt I am not the only person confronted by the clash between fantasy and reality at this time of year, although your fantasies and realities might be quite different to mine. Whatever they are, this prayer from the archives challenges us to move beyond fantasy and self-pity, invite God into the lonely, ugly places in our hearts, and transform them into something good. It was written by my friend, Bruce Rumbold.
A hard time to handle
Christmas time can be hard to handle, Lord.
There’s the traffic, and the canned carols,
the crowds in the shops, letter boxes overflowing with
junk mail, the multiple demands on our time and energy.
For nearly all of us it’s the sheer busyness
— our own or other people’s — that overwhelms us.
We can feel alienated from other people and our own selves;
unable to touch base with our true feelings and aspirations,
submerged in the headlong rush of anxious preparation.
You know all that is hard enough.
Even so, for some of us there are prospects of real intimacy,
time to unwind with people we love once we reach the harbour
that follows the storms of preparation.
But for others of us it seems that only emptiness
awaits us on Christmas Day.
We dread the pain of an empty place
at the table this year.
Or anticipate another day of grinding politeness,
enduring the pretence of being family,
exchanging presents out of duty, not love.
Some of us have places to go,
but no place where we really belong.
Some of us have nowhere to go,
and must face those same four walls
which seem to set impenetrable limits on our lives.
The loneliness and the silence
can seem unbearable, Lord.
And in the silence, the questions multiply:
What if … ?
If only I had … !
How could … ?
Release us from the downward spiral of self-pity and
self-blame, and help us to see that your truth is
to be found at the edges of our preoccupations.
For you come to a shed outside a Bethlehem inn —
not the grandeur of the palace in Jerusalem.
You choose to bring good news to despised shepherds —
not the people of influence.
You invite us to see you at the points in our lives
where we feel marginalised, hurt, and lonely.
You invite us to take you to the places in our lives
where we find ourselves taking refuge in hostile
rejection of the apparent gladness of others.
You invite us to lead you to those places in ourselves
where we create images of our lovelessness,
This Christmas, within this community of people,
enable us to experience your incarnation
in such freshness:
That our loneliness may become the solitude
in which we experience your healing presence;
That the hostility by which we protect ourselves
may be transformed into hospitality;
That our illusions may be dissolved into prayer.
For we ask this through Jesus Emmanuel.*
*Emmanuel is one of many names for Jesus,
and simply means ‘God-with-us’.
Emailed to Sanctuary 22 December 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Prayer by Bruce Rumbold, found in Terry C Falla Be Our Freedom, Lord (2nd ed.) Adelaide: Openbook, 1994, pp 226-267. Image credit: Ismail Hamzah on Unsplash.
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