A More Realistic Christmas Blessing
Yeah, this looks about right.
Christmas is full of blessings. Whether it's seeing a small child's excitement, giving or receiving gifts, or just revelling in general Christmas cheer, it feels good to be blessed after this very long year. I won't get political in a Christmas post, but suffice it to say, even if you voted for Brexit or Donald Trump, you are unlikely to feel much excitement over the year as a whole anyway. Aleppo, mass shootings, Russia poking their noses where they don't belong, natural disasters. Alan Rickman died. This year has not been that great.
And yet, I found myself listening to the traditional Christmas blessing last week. I've heard it a few times, and it varies slightly, but here's the gist of it:
May the joy of the angels,
The peace of Mary
The eagerness of the shepherds,
The perseverance of the wise men
And the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas.
Nice, isn't it? And yet, I don't think it's all that accurate, really.
1. I'll let the angels statement fly (pun wholeheartedly intended). I don't know anything about angels, but I do know they can rejoice when one person is saved, so let's assume they can feel joy, and that they felt joy at the birth of Jesus. I don't really have any information to dispute that.
Accurate hands. Less accurate face.
2. The peace of Mary? Um, less sure now. Let's remind ourselves of Mary's actual response to a heavenly being appearing to her: "she was greatly troubled at the saying." Yeah, no duh (as I would've said in middle school). Other translations say she was startled, scared or (in the Message) thoroughly shaken. Mary didn't have peace right away, that's for sure. She even said to the angel "How on earth is that going to happen? I'm a virgin." I don't know about you, but I would've been less articulate and more tongue-tied, but then, God didn't choose me to carry that baby. Then, even though she was about to be an unmarried pariah, she managed to sing a beautiful song of praise.
This sheep gets it. Angels are SCARY.
3. The eagerness of the shepherds? Definitely don't have much evidence of this. Would your reaction to a literal multitude of supernatural beings be eagerness? Of course not. Their reaction was that they were "filled with great fear", "sore afraid" or in the NIV version "terrified". Terrified seems fairly accurate to me. I would not be surprised at all if the sheep weren't the only creatures soiling that field that night. I would probably puke or cry, as those are my personal reactions to huge amounts of stress, even good stress.
4. The perseverance of the wise men? Okay, blessing, I'll give you this one, but only on a technicality. Surely, after travelling however far on camels or donkeys (or more likely on foot), they were adamant: "we aren't going home until we have found this baby." I imagine them leaving home to find something that they weren't certain would actually be real. Were they like professional star chasers? Or scientists? Or mystics? Or maybe they were just people on a journey just to see if their dreams actually meant something. I don't think they necessarily had the quality of perseverance, I think they were just compelled by circumstance.
Cute, but needs more swaddling clothes.5. Finally, the peace of the Christ child. Now, you and I both know that they peace they mean is a lasting one based on goodness and lack of conflict, but it could just as easily mean quietness. And Jesus, no matter how many times you sing "Away in a Manger", almost certainly cried. Even if you think that Jesus was perfect and sinless, babies don't sin by crying, they communicate what they need. Surely, even that omniscient baby needed to feel held, clean and fed. And with all those shepherds and animals visiting and the census being taken, there was no way that the stable (or front room) was quiet.
Maybe you, like me, hear that blessing and go: "Great. Like that's going to happen." I don't feel much eagerness, perseverance, joy or peace these days. And I think that's actually okay. We sometimes need to acknowledge that the perfect beings of our Bible were actually still human. That's why we separate things so neatly. The shepherds have no names or faces. The wise men have names but there were almost certainly more than 3 of them. The angels are just faceless glorious lights. Even Mary, who we know backwards and forwards, bows out of Jesus' story and only appears at the temple, a wedding and his death. Just people, trying to live their lives with someone utterly amazing in their midst.
So I recommend a new blessing. A blessing that reflects our current situation. A blessing for imperfect people.
May the multitude of the angels remind you of how many love you.
May the troubled exterior of Mary remind you to be compassionate to other messed-up, imperfect people.
May the heart-pounding fear of the shepherds remind you that when you meet Jesus, you don't have to shower the muck off first.
May the dogged persistence of the wise men remind you that following your dreams comes at a cost, but the journey will be worth it.
May the noisiness of the stable remind you that beauty can be found as much in chaos and grit as in cleanliness and quiet.
And may the need for security, love and nourishment that even the Baby Jesus had lead you to the people who will show you what His heart looks like.