Christmas Day

This Christmas day I have decided I want to be alone. I want to think about this:

Technically, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of a man called Jesus.

The child Jesus became a man who died a horrible and painful death, nailed to a cross.

I try to imagine the horrible pain, the excruciating pain, the nails driven through the palms of the hands and the bones of the feet.

Then I try to think of those who kneel before you, who long to live in that dying body, to suffer the searing pain in the feet and hands.

Because he suffered for you, so you could be redeemed, so you could sit with the angels in bliss forever.

Jesus was punished because both the colonial power in Palestine and the local authorities regarded him as a threat.

It is not clear to me exactly what he believed, but he was certainly the agent for a certain amount of public disorder, i.e. upsetting the tables of the moneychangers in the temple.

In fact, if I am asked what he believed, I can only find half-understood events and phrases – the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the Sermon on the Mount, “turn the other cheek”, “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

As a child I learned the Lord’ Prayer and said it every day, first in the morning, and then at night, kneeling at my bedside.

It told me to remember Jesus, to ask for his help in getting my “daily bread”, to help me to avoid temptation and to forgive those who “trespass” against me.

This Jesus was a kindly and gentle person. I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder sometimes. He knew me.

Strange how this dissident, this radical — out of so many others who were ignored or suffered equally ugly, horrible deaths — became our comforter and guide.

I think of my little grandmother, her iron grey hair tightly pinned and bound in a hairnet. “I know I will see Robert again when I die”, she said.

Now they say Jesus is present in the teeming, dangerous megacities of the South.

I read that there are 100 million Pentecostalists in China.

But, here, only 12 or 15 people will attend Holy Communion in our village church this morning.

Here, where I live, this day is mainly a day of tired contented parents and absurdly happy children, a day when most of the lonely find somewhere to go.

Beyond the playground, with its babble of happy voices, looms the hospital, with its long corridors.

We grow old but do not multiply. The hospitals get bigger.