We are having a large star put up on our roof today. On our street everyone really goes to town with their decorations but we have never joined in before. The Other Half of Our Street takes it all very seriously, with a big co-ordinated effort and white lights only, whereas for the riff-raff on Our Half Of The Street, anything goes. Its like Fairy-light Fight-club. But our plain white star is quite restrained.
I feel quite emotional about it. It feels, well, hopeful. And hope is tricky isn’t it? I am aware that as a woman of faith, I always have hope. But its a deeper, darker kind of hope. Not a its-all-going-to-be-ok hope. Not a guided-every-step-of-the-way hope. I suppose following a star must have actually been pretty bleak. I mean, if you actually wandered towards a real star, it would be very dark and you wouldn’t have a clue where you were going, just a distant glimmer. Maybe that’s what this time of year is all about.
I have written before about how Christmas represents the hope that everything really can be different. That power can be born in the vulnerable, a king in a manger, a young woman believed. And while that can be true, this year I am painfully aware that it isn’t always. The angry child inside me, inside so many of us I am sure, stamps her feet and shouts “why isn’t it better?”, “why can’t someone fix this”, “surely if people knew the truth then all of this would get sorted out?”. But the adult knows that the child on the waiting room floor, the people waiting for universal credit, the woman whose house has been destroyed to build another pipeline, all these people want someone to fix it for them. Deeply, deeply shitty things happen all the time and no-one puts it right.
Especially not God. God can do solutions, he can do everything, but he doesn’t always. People of exceptional faith seem better at dealing with this. Look at Mary. She had it really rough, but, knowing that she was going to get the only soundbite that would come from a poor woman for pretty much centuries, she managed to fire out some belting lines about how God sends the rich away empty and destroys the might of princes. Facing a pregnancy that was going to look illegitimate, a future of all kinds of persecution, and eventually having to watch her son die in brutal and humiliating circumstances, her hope was still perfect. Based, probably, on the knowledge of her son as God-is-with-us. With us and in us, as in everything.
Because I have come to understand recently that God is in the storm and not just the voice that calms it. In the water as well as the walking on water. A few weeks ago we listened to Haydn’s creation in the church. I thought it would be floaty and serene but it wasn’t, it was turbulent. The music was crashy and angry in places, and the wind howled around the building at the same time. And in that slightly jarring and uncomfortable place I found a new peace. The peace of knowing that God could be in my own darkness as well as my good bits, in pain as well as healing, in anger as well as kindness, when anger is wounded love, and God is love.
He is, of course, in everything apart from lies. That’s the one place He Simply Cannot Be. Which is rotten when we are all so surrounded by lies at the moment aren’t we? And its inevitable. Because wherever there are people who can’t accept their vulnerability, who can’t look in the mirror and see their wounds and own them as part of their God given loveliness, we will have to have lies to cover it up. We will have to shunt the misery down onto those more vulnerable. We will have to have power that only exists by making others powerless.
So maybe that’s what the hope of Christmas is. That we can enter that stable, and see the child lying in straw, and the child lying in coats, as totally vulnerable, but totally visible. And know that when we speak the truth, and keep our eyes on those in most need, those with the least armour, we will set our selves up for things to not always end well in the world’s terms. But that the worlds terms are not, ultimately, all there is. We can lift our eyes to the stars. And we can cry out. Knowing not only that we are heard, but that God is as much the cry as the one we cry to, because it was him who put the cry there in each of us as surely as he planted each star.