Let’s go back to a hot Barossa Valley day in January 2014.
In St John’s manse, Joy and Amelia and I were eating our mutton and drinking our wine.
We sat back and watched French murder on DVD.
We were revelling in the cool change – all the windows wide open and the cool airs wafting in through the screen doors.
Peace and cool
… the women in their light cotton house dresses, I in my shorts and “Yes” concert tour tee shirt (British prog rock never lets you down.)
The sounds of Summer.
The galahs bedding down late in the church trees.
The occasional car.
The hissing of summer lawns as the sprinklers refresh the grass I’d cut that afternoon.
The French talk blending perfectly with the summer evening.
Serenity (with French violence) …
Suddenly the Black Dog strikes!
No, not THAT black dog
… not the black dog that plagued Mr Churchill … that plagued Reverend Fox … that plagued the peace of mind of those two gentlemen as they sat, years and a world apart, in their melancholy struggling to set their minds on the hard, misunderstood tasks ahead of them.
Our Black Dog
… Diesel the Wonder Dog
His nose propelled the sliding back screen door open
and that door yielded to his enthusiastic anxiety to share the wonders of unattended sprinklers in his back yard.
Fun that must be shared, if en passant, with the family.
Suddenly the screams are not confined to the flat screen.
Suddenly the accents of dismay and suffering have an Australian twinge.
Bare legs recoil
Footprints on tee shirts
Black hairy grinning face.
The Summer of 2014 was not so bad.
A January Dawn.
The sun is up and the air is hot already.
We are 160 kilometres from home – time to change drivers.
Yumali sits quiet and warm by the highway.
I have often travelled this Adelaide – Melbourne road and, thinking back over the last half century or so, I don’t remember Yumali being anything but quiet … but not always this quiet.
The air is beautiful.
The quiet is beautiful.
The light is beautiful.
The traffic is very light at this hour of the morning, but this stillness serves to make the noise of passing trucks all the more intrusive.
Distant magpies carol, singing honeyeaters make the songs singing honeyeaters make, and a very stroppy Willie Wagtail scolds this bald, bearded intruder.
Mrs and Mr Wagtail have claimed the old Yumali hall as their territory. They have a nest secreted away from the world in its dusty eaves.
The hall isn’t really “old” so far as “old” goes. It was built of concrete block work in 1960.
Even though this building is nine years younger than I am, it has an older, perhaps “timeless” authority than I could ever manage sitting there by the Sherlock Road intersection with the highway.
It looks old with an old kind of charm.
It is plain but lovely.
The weathered doors and woodwork make the building look a little bit unloved, but I am sure it is loved.
Its silence holds quiet echoes of the life and love it once held and felt.
I am sure that life and love lives in the hearts and memories of people living not far from these doors.
And peeking through the gap in the wooden doors, holding my phone camera to the hole, I can see an echo of that life.
I can take the photo and keep a wee trace of that lovely echo for myself.
Something in me wants to stay.
Part of me wants to keep the silence for my own.
Part of me longs to be wrapped in the quiet.
Part of me wants to stop in Yumali and love this hall.
But we have roads to drive, journeys to make, promises to keep.
Yumali Hall is safe under the gaze of the Willie Wagtails.
It is two days before Christmas, and then it will be Christmas for twelve whole days – then we can take down our trees and get back to normal – well, as normal as we can manage.
The past month of sales, and reindeer, and parties wasn’t Christmas
– that was Advent
Advent is kicked aside by crowds of paraders and party-ers, and retailers and exploiters, pretending that it is the Christmas season and that somehow, in their unbelief, that they can have a claim on Christmas. But they can’t.
Christmas is a Christian thing, but all may share in it.
It doesn’t belong to big retailers or grocery shops.
It doesn’t belong to people of other religions or of no religion.
But Christmas is offered to those others to share, so they may be blessed through it.
Of course, the blessings are very temporary if they are hidden or subverted – we’ve all seen that is so.
Christmas isn’t just another party day
And it certainly has nothing really with trees and tinsel, lightbulbs and laughter,
parties and pageants and presents.
It really has not much to do with St Nicholas (whose day was back on the 6th December), and who has been kidnapped and parodied in the fat fatuous fiction of Father Christmas or Santa Claus.
Christmas is so much more important than shallow frippery
… it calls for and deserves quiet, joyful, respectful, loving respect of it and of those people around us.
It should be a gathering in celebration with friends and family.
Many of us work so hard at celebrating – not necessarily celebrating joy or anything like that, but celebrating the spirit of competition, and celebrating what we imagine to be our personal achievements.
We erect so many coloured lights that darkness can be no more. Perhaps it is darkness inside us we are fighting.
Or perhaps all those lights are simply a sign that darkness has won.
It’s filled us with an irrational fear – We are afraid of being left out in the dark
… fear of being left out
… fear of being judged by our peers
… fear of not being accepted
… fear of appearing less than those around us.
BUT that can be treated with a good dose of REAL CHRISTMAS
with its love and kindness. It worked for Scrooge, and it can work for us.
Christmas is about Christ …
Now whether or not you believe in Jesus Christ is your problem, I don’t want to hear about what you believe or not, or about how intelligent and rational you imagine yourself to be. This isn’t about what you or I believe. It’s about the Christ story.
It’s about how humans can live – how humans MUST live if humanity is to survive …
The real Christmas story is more of a struggle than the story we usually see in our Nativity plays.
This baby we picture in the manger deserves to be our guide, our example, our inspiration …
He is important because, even if we don’t realise the truth ourselves,
that truth is that we need to be saved from heading down our destructive paths we are all too happy to follow, and to be restored to a right and healthy human way of living.
Delicate and soft … the baby came in a tiny parcel … a baby born into a low socio-economic group … born to a teenager without a ring on her finger … born in the squalor of real human existence, in a crappy unhygienic animal shed. Like all babies, he was born small and helpless.
And nobody cared.
Well, almost nobody cared.
Mary and Joseph cared of course … Mary had gone through a lot in this first pregnancy of hers … shock … supernatural visions … worry about the probable break up with her fiancé – but thankfully that didn’t happen…
All through her pregnancy, as her teenage unmarried belly swelled, there were wagging fingers, and the flapping tongues, of those who would judge and gossip.
She could see it all … she could feel the disapproval coming in waves … she could feel her worth being sucked away by the vibrations given out by the unloving uncaring people who glowed in the light of their own self worth.
She was shunned by the other young women – the “righteous” ones …the first-century yummy-mummies who gathered and postured in the market place wishing that coffee shops would soon be invented so they could put their insecurity and shallowness and hypocrisy on display in more comfort
– they gossiped and looked down their noses at Mary – they had their blokes and their mortgages – their wedding and engagement rings sparkled
– they didn’t get caught out on some dark night and have to carry the consequence sticking out in front of them for all to see and laugh about
– their babies were perfectly legal, good and kosher, and they were happy
– well, at least they said so – at least they made the effort to fool themselves into believing they were happy, and unafraid of the world.
But you know, they were afraid … and they still are.
The long journey, so close to Mary’s due date wouldn’t have been much fun.
At least it wasn’t snowing – despite what the Christmas cards might tell us, Jesus wasn’t born in mid-winter – sheep weren’t out in the fields in midwinter, they were safely penned and shedded in farm yards and village outskirts – even simple shepherds weren’t dumb enough to abide in icy fields.
But winter or not, there were no trains or busses – ancient Palestine was even worse than modern South Australia when it comes to public transport. It was a long walk, and the Bible doesn’t mention any donkey
… besides, she was a woman, and women walked behind.
So she and Joseph walked the 112 kilometres from Nazareth to Bethlehem … and when they finally arrived, as exhausted as they were, they prepared for the risky business of birth that day or the next.
But… families being families, things didn’t go as smoothly then as they could have. Joseph and Mary were an inconvenience.
They found themselves rejected by those they should have been able to depend on.
“No room in the inn” our traditional stories tell us – but the Bible doesn’t mention an inn
… what the Bible texts tell us is that there was no room in the extended family’s guest room – the kataluma.
And doesn’t this make the story worse than telling us there was a full pub? Worse, because what this is saying on a human level is the cousins had “no room in their hearts for Joseph and his girl with a bun in the oven”.
So young Mary laboured in pain and sweat and fear in a stinking dark byre downstairs while the more worthy family guests partied and slept in the comfort of clean sheets upstairs in the breezy upper rooms on the roof reserved to impress more important visitors.
And down there, in the sad, grim dark, she gave birth to the baby we recognise as Light in a dark world.
Consider the stories about him.
His ways could be our ways, and his ways were kindness and peace and love.
Often, when he grew up, we are told that he said “Go and do likewise” when he did an act of kindness or of wonder . Imagine if we did.
What a great ongoing Christmas present that would be – for us and for everybody!
Even if you do not, or cannot, believe that this kid is “God in the Flesh” we can all learn a lot from him. His ways can be light in our darkness,
whatever our particular darkness may be.
A very happy and merry Christmas to everybody who reads this!
I am the author of this feeble blog.
My name is Ant Fox … an amalgam of an annoying insect and a feral animal (well, feral in Australia but loved elsewhere – I live in Australia, so …)
I was born in 1951, and spent my childhood and youth in the country.
Back then it was a world before TV, computers, mobile phones, and pocket calculators.
It was a world of outdoors, of wireless sets, of books, of plays, and of poetry.
It sounds idyllic, but in reality my childhood wasn’t really very happy. I had few friends, my family situation was not as I would have had it, but I survived.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (apparently)
I grew up in the Swinging Sixties and the Sexy Seventies.
I met a redhead named Joy (as in “to the world”), and we were married in 1973 – we remain married today 45 years later.
Together we hung around in the trendy arty set in the 70s and 80s, we’ve met a lot of artists, attended a lot of gallery openings, and collected a lot of artworks – perhaps that’s why I paint; perhaps that’s why we spend money we haven’t got on things that are beautiful.
We have two kids … a son, born on our tenth wedding anniversary, and a daughter who came two years later. We are immensely proud of them, and have good reason to be so.
I worked in plant sciences at Adelaide University for 20 years as a science technician and a research assistant. I have co-authored a couple of papers in the field of ion transport across cell membranes, and I have walked many leagues in real fields, in deserts and arid lands, measuring, photographing, and collecting. I also spent much time hidden from the world in laboratories where I was relatively happy.
I have qualifications in science, as well as basic qualifications as a nurse’s aid – my greatest accomplishment in that latter field was fainting in an operating theatre … “More suction here please nurse, and get a chair for Mr Fox”.
I have a Bachelor of Theology (a real one) and post-graduate qualifications in ministry – I was ordained as a Lutheran clergyman in 2000, and was in parish in Victoria and South Australia from November 2001 until November 2016. In that time, I worked with “ordinary people” (whatever that means) and with African refugees. I have never anthropomorphised the concept of God and made him in my image, as is the habit of many in the church, but I do believe that the myths contained in holy scripture contain truths that can’t be explained other ways, and teach us good and worthy lessons, if not literal facts about creation and so on.
Now I am retired.”Retired” means that I paint and carry on as a grumpy but contented old artist fella.
That’s me – hopefully I might write something that’s vaguely interesting, almost worthwhile, and possibly (only possibly) stimulating for you in this Blog ……… but not now – it’s afternoon tea time.