By Christopher Saunders, Bishop of Broome
I visited a family last Christmas Day who had received a hamper from the Bishop’s Christmas Appeal. Clearly they were not a well-off household at the best of times.
As it happened that year, a number of bills had arrived leading up to the festive day thus adding to their poverty. Come Christmas week, the family purse was all but empty and the young children of the household were looking to a bleak celebration.
For me, what has become most memorable about this visit was the happiness on the young faces of those who sat down to very simple fare on Christmas Day, far less exotic than most lunches elsewhere that day.
There were no luxury gourmet dishes with fine sauces but a full bowl of Vita Brits with milk and honey, which was certainly filling and welcome. A slice of toast with baked beans followed the entree. The older ones each had a bowl of tinned meat mixed with chopped onion, canned tomatoes and rice – all cooked in a fry-pan that had been used earlier that morning to make a tasty damper. A tin of golden syrup on damper satisfied for dessert for the older ones while the youngsters were treated to pineapple jelly made up by mum the night before. Every single ingredient was from the hamper.
I wonder what Mary and Joseph ate on Christmas Day? I imagine it was filling but uncomplicated. Anthropologists have given us some details of the food eaten by your average citizen living at the time of Jesus. For simple folk it was a diet comprised mostly of barley bread, olives, eggs, onions, lentils, sheep’s cheese, curdled milk and dried fruits. Meat was a rarity, conspicuous only among the rich and famous.
Such ordinary foods would have held together body and soul for Mary and Joseph while, I suggest, the birth of a boy child must have been itself something so great for their spirit that it added something to their sustenance.
I mention the above matters because when I read the Infancy Narratives of Luke’s Gospel, I am taken, time and time again, by the simplicity of it all. And yet in that simplicity that speaks clearly of poverty, homelessness, the flight of refugees from evil, the starkness of a child’s birthplace, there is nonetheless a deep-hearted joy that is ever present and powerfully satisfying in its own way.
I wonder about my own fuss, and that of others, at Christmas time and the complications we create that add to our stress and worries. How it is that we so often get caught up in the urgent demands that accompany our preparations for the Feast Day, that smother us in detail as we struggle with tinsel, presents, puddings, gourmet style food, and bright lights?
Perhaps my friends of last Christmas, in their austere fibro home with the uncomplicated menu, have got it right? With such uninvolved distractions invested in the festivity, perhaps the essential wonder of Christmas, the birth of our Saviour, may strike home in an enduring manner that will lead to a deepening gratitude to our God.
Amidst all the prayerful joys of Christmas and the good tidings that come, there is a profound sense of hope bound up meticulously with the mystery that is the nativity of Jesus.
The mystery of God’s love for his creation, for humanity, spoken about so clearly through the words of the prophets of old, begins to be dramatically revealed as the boy child is born, God and man, to dwell among us: The Word becomes Flesh. Christ our Life! Christ our hope!
There it was that Christmas night, in a non-descript township in the Land we call Holy, that God showed his hand so graciously, so generously, as His Son was brought into the world to love it and then to redeem it some years later in the glory that was Easter.
Let us pray that we may be focused simply on our Christmas celebrations in order that we may simply live our Christmas in joy, giving thanks to Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who came that we may have life and have it to the full (Jn 10:10).
I wish you, your family and your community God’s choicest blessings this Christmas.