We can find hope in the face of too much reali
THE HIGHLIGHT OF CHRISTMAS TV
for me was, without doubt, the performance of the Chicken Shed Theatre Company on the Royal Variety show at lunchtime on Christmas Eve. The Chicken Shed Theatre Company are young people, but significantly include youngsters with disabilitiess blind, deaf, Downs syndrome, all integrated into the song and dance performance. They put on a musical of the Christmas story and at the moment of the revelation of Jesus's birth, asked each other what, with nothing, could they give to the child? A young man in a wheelchair spun round to face the audience and, face lit up, he proclaimed "Let's dance". How could he? you felt. But then, together, Chicken Shed revealed exactly how and the young man became a natural part of a brilliant piece of complex choreography. He certainly could dance. They all could.
It was a moment that reminded me of the old English Christian theme for Easter celebrating the Lord of the Dance that triumphs over death; and suddenly, the Christmas and Easter mysteries came closer together.
Then, at Midnight Mass at the start of our Christmas liturgy, Christmas and Easter touched each other again. A young boy came up with the entry procession carrying the model infant Jesus to place in the Crib at the foot of the altar, and as our parish priest knelt for a few moments in silence before the Crib, there were vivid echoes of the Good Friday liturgy; a lay person carrying in the Cross and the silent adoration.
The distance between the Crib and Calvary seemed eclipsed. Certainly the Christmas international news bulletins did not leave any space for turning to a sickly sentimentality, as the Russian tanks and bombs moved in on Grozny against the Chechen resistance fighters. It can't have been much of a Christmas for families sheltering in the basements, terrified that their relatives who ventured out would be killed or maimed, not knowing when or how the war could possibly end. Peace on earth and goodwill to all people must have haunted the Chechens as an unutterably sick joke. As they were bombarded, once again the world watched the action on their television screens as passive observers, at best waiting for the end, or changing channels to blot out the harsh reality of Christmas in Chechenya. It was more a Good Friday political liturgy than Christmas night. But if the mystery of the Incarnation, "God became man", is to have any substance then the reality of experiencing something of Good Friday on Christmas Day is surely typically human. We can try to shut out the world and the realities of human life only if we are self indulgent escapists. "Go, go", said the bird, (in TS Eliot's "Four Quartets") "humankind can't bear too much reality". Thank God that "Divinekind" was prepared to be our reality. Becoming man and taking on the sins of mankind was not an abstract concept. What hope there is for the Chechens, for the Rwandan refugees, for the besieged Bosnians is not easy to spell out, to predict in practical political terms. But it must be in precisely these disturbing human circumstances that the event of Christmas must keep hope alive. And for those of us not in immediately desperate positions, the young man with Chicken Shed dancing in his wheelchair is a real challenge, not only to our everyday assumptions of what is and what is not possible and of what constitutes our human activities, it is a direct challenge to our own faith in the Resurrection.