He's on His Way!
That's what it said on the poster I saw yesterday, outside the All Saints Church on Ponsonby Rd.
An A4 size sheet in black and white, pinned to the church door.
Underneath the caption was an ultrasound image of a fetus, with a little halo above His head. I'm saying "His" because, although there was no tiny pee-pee visible, I'm presuming the scan was meant to represent Jesus in utero, the Christ Child in the womb.
A wavy outline of a bean-shaped baby, with a white circle glowing over one end. He's on His Way! Countdown to a baby, in case you forgot what Christmas was all about. There's a baby coming! And a miraculous baby at that! Fetal Jesus.
It was like looking at an x-ray of a unicorn. Super cute or kind of creepy, depending on your point of view. The politics of sticking a halo on a fetal scan are thorny at the least, if not an outright Christmas gift to the pro-lifers.
And yet, who can fail to be moved by an image like that? The peace and contentment of a little shadow floating in the dark. We stick them on the fridge, and on Facebook, yet an ultrasound scan remains a holy thing.
The picture of a secret, revealed to us by waves of sound.
Stick a little halo in there and medical science is suddenly married to the mystical realm, and the juxtaposition makes for an image that is both instantly recognisable and oddly disconcerting.
"Did he really look like that?" I thought to myself, idiotically, totally entranced by an image of the little Jesus with his crown on, nestled in his mother's womb.
I am a sucker for this sort of thing. My Catholicism has always had a maudlin cast.
I remember as a child, breaking down in tears when my mother told us the Bethlehem story, and she got to the part about how the donkeys blew on the infant Jesus to keep him warm.
The miracle of a virgin birth went right over my head, the only thing I grasped was that it was bitterly cold.
It's still what I think about when I hear Silent Night, how freezing it must have been, in the imaginary manger, on that notional night in December. I know the Christmas story is a fable, pretty much, and yet there is something about that stable in Bethlehem that gets me every time.
Maybe it's because I'm a Christmas baby myself, but the story of a child born in the cold and in the snow, wrapped in swaddling cloths and attended to by his exhausted parents and some assorted pieces of livestock has had a powerful hold on me since childhood. The idea of them all crammed in there together, Mary and Joseph and the donkey, and whatever other beasts of burden they had to move around to make room. So humble as to be abject, who could pick such a place as the setting for a miracle to occur?
And then the arrival of the shepherds and the angel, and the three wise men with their camels and their presents, all led by the light of the star. (I know the Wise Men probably didn't get there until a few days later, but I like to have them there on the big night, it completes my imaginary tableau.)
And the cattle in there, lowing quietly, as beasts of burden do, and the donkeys warming Jesus, and the oxen doing whatever it is oxen do. There are always scores of animals in my imagining of that first Christmas Night.
I think I may have read the story of Noah's Ark around the same time and decided it might be nice to mingle the two.
It's a scene that's very dear to me, and one that always produces an emotional effect.
I remember being really, really drunk once, on a train in Thailand on Christmas Eve. We had been lying there for hours, drinking Sang Som rum when suddenly the stable occurred to me, and I dissolved into floods of tears.
The infant! The oxen! The cold! I collapsed in a paroxysm of weeping, much to the attendants' concern. They see a lot of humanity, working the trains in Thailand, but even these guys were bemused by the sight of a drunk girl crying over the baby Jesus in her little bunk bed. I left the story of the manger alone for a while after that, in my head.
It came back to me though with full force, standing outside the church yesterday afternoon. The stable, the baby, the miracle.
A symbol of hope so powerful that whether it actually happened or not is moot. Of course it didn't. Mary never had a sonogram either, and, to the best of my knowledge, donkeys have never blown on a baby to keep it warm.
For believers, the miracle of Christmas is the humanity of Christ, the Word made Flesh through a human birth. You don't have to believe in that to love the story though. It's beautiful enough to love it for itself. A lady with a baby, in a manger.
A simple, humble allegory of love.
He's on His Way!