A reflection for Christmas I 26th December 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

It came as a bit of a shock the time I looked in the mirror and saw my mother looking back! When did I start looking like a badger? When did my hair start falling out – well apart from the 10cm long ones sprouting from the top of my ear. When did I become middle-aged and approaching 60?

Mentally, I still feel as though I’m 18 – my mind butterflying from one thing to another BUT my body with its aches and cracks certainly doesn’t feel 18 anymore. So this is what it feels like to ‘mature’?

Well, I am not sure that I really know what it does feel like to mature. All I know is what it feels like to be me. Me, a man stuffed full of memories and experiences half of which I have forgotten and much of the rest lying half-submerged in my sub-consciousness. Things that once seemed to have substance and great importance have gone passed away like; ‘Mists we on mornings see.’  to quote the poet John Clare.

Things that have in the past hurt or wounded me have dissipated and now I can’t think why they upset me so at the time. This probably sounds a bit depressing but actually I am not depressed at all by the changes in my body and mind.

One cannot halt the ageing process or even remember what one has forgotten, or regain the body one had as a youth. All one can do is celebrate who one is NOW and to give thanks to God for what is important, and what gives one joy while maintaining a desire to grab life by the lapels.

I suppose it is at this time of the year when I become conscious of what’s past. For all of us much will have happened over these past 12 months. There will be the events one wants to remember and the events one actively wants to forget. In this time of Covid memories seem a bit slippy - time has sort of expanded and contracted in different ways and what was months ago can seem like yesterday and yesterday can be long forgotten. Perhaps this is a good thing in these strange times?

The past may be remembered in a way that wasn’t quite as it was, for we do tend to remember selectively and often in our recall of those events we do embroider them. The Gospels are a good example of this. None of the four accounts are quite the same as each other. To get the full Christmas story as we know it you have to take bits from all four:

The Annunciation by Gabriel from Luke

The visit of the angel to Joseph from Matthew

Shepherds from Luke

Kings from Matthew

The Word made flesh from John

And bits of John-the-Baptist from Matthew, Mark and Luke

Each Gospel writer is sharing bits from the memories and stories about Jesus handed on to them. The bits they believed were important in helping them (and us) come to some comprehension of who Jesus Christ was. Today’s Gospel is a good illustration of what I mean. It is commonly believed that Luke was recording the memories of Jesus held by Mary, his mother. Verse 2:51b seems to be evidence for this:

“His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary was obviously remembering a time when she felt guilty for losing her son – leaving him behind in the temple. She was perplexed and amazed by what he said to her and Joseph when they did find him:

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”

Luke 2:49

This memory probably helped her come to terms with his later death but at the time it more likely confused her, so she just ‘tucked it away’ as many parents might. The fact that Mary and Joseph ‘lost’ Jesus is not that surprising, they probably assumed that he was with other members of the extended family and party of friends who would have journeyed with them to the temple at Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus wasn’t in the guddle of the pilgrims speaks of a rebellious spirit on his part – almost the behaviour of teenagers today. ‘I’m gonna do what I want to do, not what dad and mum want me to do.’ Well! Jesus certainly did his own thing.

Yet, once Jesus had been found and he had explained why he had been disobedient he dutifully went home and would appear to have been more considerate to his parents’ feelings for the next couple of decades. Apart from this account we don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood and young adulthood – his so termed ‘hidden years’. Obviously, he had a life but the Gospel writers did not think it of great significance that they needed to record it.

As I said earlier, we remember that which we believe to be important and that which we believe to be important and that which helps us make some sense of the jumble that life is. In fact, I find it quite comforting that the Gospel accounts, well all scriptural accounts, are selective in what they say and don’t say – you can’t take what they say as literal, you have to interpret them and read them in context – but also it tells me that it is okay for my memory to be selective too.      

What is important is what the Gospels, actually do say, for if only things of significance are recorded then they are recorded for a reason and it is that ‘reason’ that we spend our lives exploring. Theology is really nothing more than the exploration or thinking about of God but what a rich and exciting adventure that is and it is a journey of discovery that we live as much as think.

As we live our lives, our experiences help shape who we are and how we interpret the world around us and how we discern who God is, in it all. Jesus is the key to our understanding because he like us lived a human life, exploring who he was and who God is. If Jesus is the template for humanity that we Christians use to make sense of it all then we should pay close attention to what he said, did and has inspired others to do and say. St.Paul, in the Epistle to the Colossians encourages us to:

‘Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.’    Luke 3:16a

and to do everything in the name of Jesus. Paul had sussed that by following Jesus we are given a framework around which to build our lives - a framework that could enable us not to make too much of a hash of it either:

'To love one another with patience, fore-bearing and forgiveness..’

and to love oneself as well. For unless you can begin to do that you can’t fully love anyone else including God.

There is one thing more, as I read them, today’s readings also tell us that we can always start again, that we can wipe the slate clean of past mistakes and have another go. Like Jesus being forgiven for wandering off, we too are always give another opportunity to get things right, to start afresh – why? Simply because we have worth, we are valuable to God and loved unconditionally.

Let the coming year be a new start for you, another opportunity to have ago at making sense of this life we live. Go into 2022 with hope and an expectation that you might get it more right than before, but don’t worry if you don’t – you’ll always have the opportunity to have another go. Because we have a God who loves us so much that we are always given a second chance again and again to get things right. Jesus learned his lesson and didn’t distress his parents again until began his ministry as an adult and his parents learned that their son was more than special and was someone who would always surprise them.