I found myself in the Brisbane city centre this week, taking my kids to see the parade, pantomine and (honestly, amazing) city hall light spectacular.
It’s Christmas, it’s school holidays, it’s a fun outing for the kids. Those were the kind of thoughts in mind as we headed off into town.
Unexpectedly to find myself in the middle of my own baffling analysis of what Christmas means today.
The parade was an impressive but kind of confused mix of the Nutcracker story with Christmas themes. Marching bands, ballerinas, stunt-mice, toy soldiers, choirs, dancing Christmas trees, kids dressed as gifts, Santa in his two-reindeer-drawn-sleigh (the rest presumably resting up for the big flight on 25/12) were all in the mix.
And right in the middle, somewhere after the christmas trees, gift-wrapped children and marching drummers, came Mary on a donkey (baby Jesus already born, hung in a sling from Mary’s shoulders) with Joseph alongside, and a few shepherds (real sheep!) and wise men (real camels!) following along behind.
They passed by follow by Santa, then a giant inflatable toy train and the aforementioned stunt-mice (no, I have no idea why either).
I found myself thinking “well, it’s nice that in a commercial Christmas parade there is a little room for Jesus, good on them.” It’s almost incarnational, Jesus in the parade, passing by 10-15-20000 people, reminding them there is more to Christmas that gift-wrapped commercialism and tinsel-draped pine trees.
And then later, as I pondered some more I started to wonder if it was so good after all?
Perhaps its not so good that Jesus fits neatly into the parade between the presents, the santa, the dancing tree and the stunt-mice. Just another costumed actor in a mixed-message presentation of all that Christmas means in Australia.
For Christians of course, Jesus is the reason for the season. The main thing. Santa, gifts, family etc, they come as secondary considerations (important, celebrated, fun, valued, but still secondary).
For our nation, as we move from being a kind-of-christian society to a mixed, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, kind-of-secular state, it seemed to me that this Christmas parade was a bit of a metaphor for what’s going on.
A bit of everything, maybe no real connected, articulated meta-story being told?
And I wonder if the presence of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the animals, sheep and wise-men in this whole big mess raises some questions for the Christian church.
Does it (do we) just want to be one more dressed-up set of actors in the midst of a whole parade? A bit part in the whole confusing story of what it means to be Australian, human, created, community in the 21st century? Any particular message we might have to share…does it just get lost in the mumbling?
Or is it more important in this time and place to stand out, to be distinctively different, sure and certain of what we claim to believe, who we claim to follow? Should we refuse to participate in the parade at all?
And if we do, does this sanitised, commercialised, feel-good image of the beautiful baby, silent-night, well-dressed shepherd thing kind of inoculate the world against any real power of the Jesus story?
For it is a scandal, this story. Here is the creator of the universe, this God who is all knowing, all powerful, come to life as a helpless, crying, poo-ing baby, spending his first night in an animal’s feed-trough to a teenaged mother and recently-contemplating-divorce father.
This child who would spend his life counter to every human expectation of the son of God, eschewing wealth, power, privilege, refusing to live into the expectations of those around him.
Who would claim time and again that true humanity stands with the powerless, heals the sick, hugs the unhuggable, loves the unlovable, frees the unfree-able, knows the unknowable.
This child-to-become-man whose unremarkable beginning and completely localised life, unknown more than 100 miles from his birth-place would spark generations of debate, discussion, passion, compassion, grace and controversy the world over.
Maybe after all, his place is here, easily-lost in the midst of this Christmas parade of options, one helpless baby in a sea of hundreds of singers, actors and dancers, unable to convey any message beyond love and total dependence.
Maybe it’s a reminder, that even if we forget sometimes, God is in all things, all times, all places. Sometimes easily missed, for sure, but there nonetheless.
In the midst of your Christmas, as you tip-toe between wrapping paper, torn-apart bon-bons, plates of half-eaten prawns, sleeping uncles, half-built Lego and squabbling children, may you notice the anonymous baby in the midst of the parade.
May you ponder his place in the drama of Christmas.
And his place in your life.