December 2011

Christmas down under

Perhaps as a nation come of age, and as a people whose many citizens originate from climes other than northern Europe, it is time for us to claim new images in our celebration of the seasons of Advent and Christmas, writes Good Samaritan Sister Patty Fawkner.

BY Patty Fawkner SGS

How many Australians actually dream of a white Christmas? A good deal fewer, I’d guess, than those who, over the coming weeks, will hear Bing Crosby’s mellifluous rendition of Irving Berlin’s classic. Yet, borrowed images from another hemisphere abound on greeting cards and in the pre-Christmas advertising deluge.

Perhaps as a nation come of age, and as a people whose many citizens originate from climes other than northern Europe, it is time for us to claim new images in our celebration of the seasons of Advent and Christmas. If we had eyes to see and ears to hear, we might detect in our early Australian summer and our end-of-year social rituals hints – even signs and symbols – of the true meaning of Christmas.

December is a time of waiting. School leavers wait for exam results. Children wait for Santa. Families wait for loved ones to come together for Christmas. Tired workers wait for the long summer holiday to rest, relax and recharge. And the harried or cynical wait for the period of forced jollity to be over.

During the oppressive ‘build up’ in the Top End, Territorians wait for the rain to come. Much of this rain will flow from the lush tropics eventually reaching the scorched, barren centre of our continent.

The warmth, the light and heat point to a potency and fullness of life. During these weeks, we wait for life to unfold and our parched spirits to be nourished.

The Christian liturgical season of Advent is a waiting time and a yearning time. Jacarandas and agapanthus, flowers of advent purple, remind us that something, someone is nigh. Advent encourages us to be patient, to learn to wait for more, for meaning to emerge from the mundane, for mystery to be made manifest. Unrecognised or not, it is God for whom we wait, for whom we long, and whom we desire. We wait for God who is the More; we long for God who is Gracious Mystery; we desire God who is the Meaning of our existence.

Mary of Nazareth, not the kitsch, saccharine lady in blue, but the earthy, gutsy, young pregnant woman, waits for the birth of her child. She detects the coming of God in her own body. And that’s the Christmas message. God, who is Saviour and life-giver, doesn’t come separate from the real stuff of our daily existence. God comes in the flesh, in our flesh. God takes upon Godself our human giftedness and human frailty. God became human, the ancient Greek fathers said, so that we might become like God.

The long summer days of December and January conspire to take us out of doors. We attend carols by candlelight, school concerts and end of year functions in December. The warmer days and holidays of January entice us to the beach, to go camping, to watch the cricket. We are invited to come outside and are called out of ourselves to mingle and rub shoulders with humanity. We’re in this together, the weather seems to be saying. A summer Christmas reminds us that Christianity is not a privatised religion about God and me. The Christmas story is a key chapter in a story about God and humanity. It is a love story still being written.

We call it the silly season – and with good reason. We’re busy and stretched and we give and receive some frivolous gifts, all part of a fine tradition. The gold is OK but, really, of what practical use are frankincense and myrrh for a new-born babe and young mother? Then and now, we know it’s the thought, the desire to connect, of wanting to give, that counts.

It is the silly season where well-worn rituals fall flat and commercial schmalz and hype fail to deliver. Yet, could anything be ‘sillier’ than God choosing to be one of us, to become a member of the flawed, fractious human race? The Scriptural narrative of the birth of Jesus reveals that God is a God of surprises, a God who invariably bypasses the accepted ways, the proper people, the agreed-upon protocols. Jesus is born in a feeding box, with shepherds – the outcasts of society – the first celebrants of his birth. Wise men make a treacherous journey from the East with nothing to guide them but a star.

We will see stars a’plenty over the coming weeks. Our own Southern Cross which hangs low in the summer sky reminds us that the birth which we celebrate at Christmas is no sentimental feast reserved only for children. The cross is the Christian sign of paradox and ambiguity. Jesus, the one whose life begins inauspiciously in a stable and ends with equal ignominy on a hill, is the one whose birth, life, death and resurrection reveals that, despite the pain and suffering of our world, that God is EmmanuelGod with us. The God for whom we wait this Advent, the God who comes as we wait, is God with us and God for us.

It is a love story still being written.

Patty Fawkner

Sister Patty Fawkner is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She is an adult educator, writer and facilitator with formal tertiary qualifications in arts, education, theology and spirituality. Patty is interested in exploring what wisdom the Christian tradition has for contemporary issues. She has an abiding interest in questions of justice and spirituality.

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