Friday was a hectic day, in the midst of celebrating a wedding I had to organise decorations for the parochial house and fit in some unexpected Christmas shopping in relation to two Christmas parties.
I was due to meet up with staff from one of the wards of Altnagelvin at 3pm on Friday for Christmas lunch. If this wasn’t seasonal enough I had arranged to attend another Christmas function at 8pm, again celebrating with staff from another hospital ward. Two Christmas dinners in the space of a few hours was a daunting task but I felt I was ready for the challenges especially after all the dieting imposed for the last eleven or twelve weeks.
I have to confess all the training and nutritional advice did pay off, whilst I might have enjoyed two starters and two main courses I did skip on dessert not once but twice!
One of the conditions for accepting the first invite was the necessity of wearing a Christmas jumper, no jumper no invite.
These jumpers seem to be all the rage even if they are somewhat limited in their use. I had tried to talk my way out of having to wear anything which looked so ridiculous by asking if I could I wear a black jumper.
I was promptly warned under no circumstances would I be allowed into the company wearing black so I decided on dark blue instead. I have to confess I didn’t have the courage to buy a Christmas jumper myself so I asked the housekeeper would she mind doing some Christmas shopping.
I told her what was needed and left everything to her imagination even though I insisted on a strict budget for an item which I might wear once or twice.
When she returned I opened the shopping bag quite nervously and began to relax a little when I discover the jumper was dark blue. Unfortunately I looked at the front to discover a bright, big Christmas pudding. Being sensitive about my weight I was going to complain but then remembered you should never bite the hand which feeds you. I had this mental image of the Christmas pudding on my jumper getting bigger and as the evening progressed. Feeling like a fish out of water I arrived at the restaurant with jumper hidden under a coat and scarf. Thankfully I was greeted by a few reindeer, Santas and a host of other Christmas scenes finely captured on bright woollen jumpers. Apart from our table I noticed one other Christmas jumper around the crowded tables, with safety in numbers lunch was beginning to feel like a support group for those who have never really recovered from childhood Christmases. The dinner table was like a convention for those who had been scared by their mother’s or parents’ lack of fashion sense from previous winters and festive periods. It brought to mind all those photographs which twenty years later you wished had been burnt or hidden away with all the other jumpers and shirts which had been inflicted on poor unsuspecting children. Only Christmas could turn dressing badly into a fashion statement.
One of the key phrases in the gospel scene concerning John the Baptist and his exchange with the people, tax collectors and the soldiers was the notion of expectations. Having heard the passages many times before and having been confronted with the scenes associated with Advent on numerous occasions; our appreciation for what is happening can become bunted and dulled. There are many generalisations regarding the messiah the Jewish people where expecting at the time of Jesus. For some these expectations revolved around a political and militaristic Messiah. Yet the American scripture scholar Brent Pitre explains in more detail what the main religious and cultural expectations concerned. For many their hope for the coming of a Messiah who would not just be a king but a prophet and a miracle worker like Mosses. It was the hope for the making of a new and everlasting covenant, which would climax in a heavenly banquet where the righteous would see God, and feast on the divine presence. It was the hope of the building of a glorious new temple, where God would be worshipped forever and forever. Finally it was the hope for the in-gathering of God’s people into the Promised Land and of a world made new. According to the Old Testament and the ancient Jewish tradition, the hope of God’s people was the restoration of Israel from exile, the in-gathering of the gentile nations and the renewal of creation itself. It was the hope that God, by the means of a new exodus, would one day make all things new. This would all come about when the Messiah would appear and lead God’s people into the Kingdom of God. Similarly what are our expectations during this season of Advent? What sort of Messiah are we expecting in the person of Jesus Christ? Are our expectations formed and shaped by the world or are we able to hear the voice of John the Baptist calling us to repent, to change our ways as we prepare to welcome the approach of God’s Son, our Saviour and Redeemer.