Yesterday I took J, L, and A into town early. J is doing a holiday music thing, so we had to be there (20 mins drive away in perfect conditions) at 9.30. Hmmm… It’s for 4 days, and 9.30-1.30 means it’s not quite worth going home again to come back out again. He’s doing gamelan, recorders and choir, and is enjoying it – it runs every holiday and next Easter K will be old enough to join in too. It’s in the university music school, and the place is full of Terribly Nice Middle Class Parents Who Want To Help Their Children Develop (like me, and former colleagues I keep bumping into).
After I’d dropped J off, I took the girls to church. We were sooo early that we sat in the car reading for a bit, and then headed off to the anglican church just down the hill from the Methodist church we’d otherwise go to. The Sunday after Christmas is traditionally a low turn-out, and so churches often get together. St. Giles is run by a lovely woman who really likes children. We sat at the back of the church in the comfy play area, played with the cuddly nativity set and read books.
One of the books was new to me, and one of the best tellings of the Christmas story I’ve seen: The Nativity by Julie Vivas. The angels have billowing ragged wings the colour of dragonfly wings, and unlaced Dr. Marten boots. When they visit the shepherds, some of them ride the sheep. There’s a picture of an exhausted but glowing Mary sitting and leaning against Joseph, who’s cuddling Jesus. It shows quite how hard it is for a heavily pregnant woman to get onto a donkey. Afterwards, when it’s time to go, an angel holds Jesus while Joseph helps Mary onto the donkey, and then Mary rides off with Jesus in a baby sling.
What I like about it, I think, is that it isn’t the bloodless stained-glass perfection depiction. It shows a normal-ish family coping with extraordinary things in amongst all the normal bits of life. God is drawing near to them, becoming a real person, born in a dirty stable, lying in an animals’ feeding trough. He’s not checking them off against a series of tests that they’re designed to fail – he’s in their life. There’s life and substance, like Aslan being a wild lion.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of God as just some nice mate. One of my favourite hymns from around this time of year is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (all the words are here) – that’s the utterly freaky thing about Christmas, the infinite, immortal, cosmic creator somehow here like one of us.
After church, we pottered a bit and went to pick J up but he reminded me that there was a free concert as part of the holiday music thing, by Prime Brass. He persuaded me to stay, and I’m glad he did as it was excellent and L and A managed to keep quiet and enjoyed it too.
On the way home J said that one of the songs he’s doing in choir is in Latin. He doesn’t know what it means, but apparently it sounds like “Ta ra ra boom teeya in an emu’s nostrils.” I’m glad all the rushing about (and hence not having a completely relaxing holiday) is worth it!