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St Johns Southgate

11 Dec 2019

Memory

Memory is a funny thing.

The things we remember aren’t necessarily what once happened, but nevertheless, we remember them. It seems that there are stories we need to tell ourselves – even when their meaning remains somewhat obscured.

I have a memory from childhood that’s very brief – it’s more like flashes of vision without any discernible context – but I must have retained it for a reason. It was just after a downpour of rain. I see myself gently, ever so carefully, sliding a fallen gumleaf with fresh droplets of water on it onto the palm of my hand, and then slowly, softly, cradling it in such a way that the beads of water wouldn’t leak away, and then I finally slip it into the freezer in the kitchen. The next image is of retrieving it sometime later to find it transformed – the little droplets having become frozen half spheres, like jewels adorning the leaf.

Why remember that? Why do I need to remember that which isn’t really even a story? Perhaps because it speaks to fragility, beauty, and the fantastical. Those three things are a powerful combination that can concoct a potent aperitif. Which might be why, still, 2000 years later, we remember the birth of Jesus.

The incarnation, as Christians refer to it – the divine becoming human – is one of the great collective memories. Not that any of us remember it in the sense of having seen the manger, heard the angels, or having watched young Mary cradling her newborn. But the story of the Christ-child has all of those ingredients – the fantastical, the beautiful, and most certainly, the fragile.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the festive season, the fragile can get pushed aside as our focus is on the beauty and fantasy of Christmas – the lights, the tinsel, a newly Instagram’d recipe, or the fat guy in the red suit. But without the fragile, Christmas just doesn’t pack a punch. The thing that has made Christmas celebrations endure over the millennia is that the Christmas miracle itself was carried by a vulnerable young woman, delivered in uncertain circumstances, even became a refugee, and was finally brutalised and killed.

That watery leaf that I carefully carried inside and which froze itself into something fantastic, it didn’t last forever. It thawed. Its special beauty melted away. But its memory remains, I think for the same reason that the ponderings of that very vulnerable Christmas birth remain devastatingly impactful for so many – because it was real, and it was so special, but it couldn’t live on forever, it had to mature, it had to die into another way of living.

Memory is quite a thing. The things we remember, the stories we remind ourselves of, have significance even if we can’t always put a finger on precisely what it is. With the baby Jesus, yes, the story may remain mysterious and beyond our complete historical and scientific comprehension, but it will always be remembered because it spells good news. The birth of Christ proclaims that the divine stands in vulnerable solidarity with a struggling people and a groaning world and seeks to set things right. The nativity’s star highlights that God is with us, and for us, and will remember us, even when our memories fail.

May this Christmas set down for you some profound memories – of beauty, transcendence, and even a touch of fragility so the memory-cut might be a deep one.

Tom Hoffmann - Pastor

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