I attended an online lecture last night, organised by the WEA, on The art of Christmas: artist’s interpretations of the Christmas story. We looked at many beautiful pictures, most of which are based on the story in medieval Nativity plays and include an ox and a donkey. It led me to think about the gap between imagination and reality.
We all hold a blending of past Christmases and traditional images but for many this year Christmas has a harsher side. Relatives in hospital or stuck in nursing homes, people young and old on their own, students coming home but bringing with them the fear of infection. The prospect of Christmas with a beloved partner but what is there still to say after months of lock down?
My attempt at an online Advent calendar has involved studying the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. There is no mention of a donkey or an ox, presumably a beast of burden for Mary and the occupant of the stable.
Supposing there was no donkey? I remember walking city streets with a heavily pregnant woman, waiting for a house sale to complete. She handed over the keys of her flat at 10am and finally gained the new property at 5pm. She was well and strong, pregnancy is not a sickness. Supposing Mary walked to Bethlehem, and fit and young though she would have been, it took longer than usual? Was their pre-booked guest room taken? How did Joseph feel?
Whatever happened, they accepted the difficulties of their situation and made the best they could out of the cot manger that was available. They had the compassion to welcome a group of shepherds who arrived unexpectedly. Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
They were tested, and kept faith with the promised saviour, held in their arms.