Alaric Mark Lewis
On confusing days and tangled lights
I've just set out our recycling to be taken away. I never know the best time to do this: Do I put it out the night before and risk a teetotal passerby being scandalised by a vicar with too many empty wine bottles? Do I put it out early in the morning and risk a rattling that will possibly wake my dog, cause him to bark, and disturb the neighbours? It's all so complicated.
Today, however, it's even more complicated, because my recycling goes out on a Monday and today is Wednesday. I'm already muddled enough with days this week, as Friday seemed like Saturday and Saturday seemed like Sunday and by the time I got to Sunday it seemed like it ought to have been Monday but, of course, it wasn't. And then Monday was the bank holiday for Christmas (which was two days before) and Tuesday was the bank holiday for Boxing Day (also two days before). Is it any wonder I've needed a glass of wine or two?
The lectionary hasn't helped me much. Since the Feast of St Stephen (December 26th) fell on a Sunday during the Octave of Christmas when – if one wants to be diligent in following liturgical principles – nothing should be celebrated except the Sunday during the Octave, there is the option for such liturgically-minded people to move St Stephen to today, so as not to confuse things even more by moving St John (the 27th) and the Holy Innocents (the 28th). But that means that poor Thomas Becket (the 29th) just sort of disappears from the calendar, adding insult to his significant injury. This year did good King Wenceslas look out today, or on the 26th? Do we need to sing Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Thomas Becket? One shudders at the possible rhyme schemes that could accompany such an opening line.
But the more I reflect on all of the confusion, I can't help but smile and think what a perfect image this is for this season. When I pause and wonder “What day is it today?” for the tenth time, there's something within me that also wonders at the fact that God chose to enter into all of this confusion with us. Even in the best of times life is rarely neat and ordered, and I think it is particularly in the messiness of the world where the true marvel of the Incarnation shines with a breathtaking beauty. Each year when I put up my Christmas tree and grumble at the tangled string of lights (because – shock of shocks! – I'm always in such a hurry when I take the tree down that I just throw everything in a box without proper organisation or sorting) I can't help but think of a God who is somehow present in tangles both real and metaphorical. And then, plugging in the lights to see if they still work before I set about the task of untangling them, what a joy it brings to see what exquisite light sparkles and shines even from within that tangle. I frequently think that my Christmas tree would be far more theologically accurate if I just threw those lights on the tree in a giant clump and dumped out the ornaments – clinging together through interlocking hooks – in a messy heap on the floor. (I don't, of course; what would the neighbours think?)
And so, to all of you whose life might be a confusing mess from time to time, I say: you're not alone. God entered into a messy stable at Bethlehem and he's still here with us. We, naturally, have much to do in cleaning up the mess (much of which has been made by our own hands) but, as we're doing that, I hope we can take comfort in the fact that our confusing, incarnate God is here with us, shining forth from the tangle of human struggle, illuminating us as we try our best.
I could go on and on – I never metaphor I didn't like! – but I think you've probably got my point. Now I've got to set about the business of trying to untangle my email inbox. First up is to respond to the bishop's office about what's going to happen when he comes to celebrate with us on the Feast of Our Holy Patron, St George. Which everyone knows is April the 23rd. Except in 2022, as April the 23rd is during the Octave of Easter so it's getting moved. Since we can't move St Mark from his perch on the 25th, George and the bishop will have to content themselves with the 26th of April this year. How confusing.
Is it any wonder I need the occasional glass of wine?