Do you know the ‘Where’s Wally?’ pictures? Busy, busy cartoons with hordes of little cartoon characters busy with various activities. Somewhere hidden among them is a little chap in a red and white stripy shirt and hat, the challenge being to find him amidst the busy detail. It’s more difficult than you’d think.
Earlier this week I ventured out to attempt some Christmas shopping. Within 30 minutes I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, resentful, and completely out of touch with my care of the friends and family I was thinking of buying for.
And the Christ child, whose birthday it is after all, was nowhere to be seen.
Each year seems more frenzied than the one before and I feel increasing horror at the busyness, the expense, the meaninglessness of so much of it, the buying of gifts for the sake of buying them, for people (including me) who already have too much of everything.
It’s not even merry for many of us: rather it’s a time when we feel, more keenly than at other times, the pain of bereavement, divorce, family tensions, disappointments and financial struggle. The tinsel, merriment and busyness (and copious quantities of food and drink) thinly plaster over the cracks, but they’re all there staring us in the face again on Boxing Day – or the 27th if you’re lucky, along with the credit card bill, which is why therapy enquiries soar in January.
Further afield, how do we celebrate Christmas in a world where children are shot and killed at their school desks? It’s the Slaughter of the Innocents, victims of grown men’s politics, all over again and the tinsel and grinning Santas look even more obscene placed alongside that.
So what’s to be done and what is the point of it all? So much of me doesn’t have an answer and any attempt feels trite, but in the middle of Marks & Spencer’s this week, in the middle of the madness that is Christmas shopping I thought of ‘Where’s Wally?’ ….
Somewhere, hidden amidst the manic busyness, frantic consumerism and heightened emotions, and yes, even the violence, is a tiny vulnerable child, born to announce a joy, peace and love that no amount of presents or food can deliver, and that no amount of violence and darkness can destroy. He’s there, I promise you, probably where you least expect.
For me he lives in quiet corners: in winter sun reflecting off the river, in dancing in my kitchen to corny Christmas music, in the unexpected cheeriness of a busy shop assistant, in the smile of a child (he lives in all children, those who are still around to open their Christmas stockings, as well as those who died at the hands of violent men; he lives also in the child within each of us). He comes and sits in my heart as it aches for the families of those dead children and helps me pray for them.
So when I feel my breath catch, or the light touch of joy, or a warmth steals across my hurting heart, I know I have found him. He is indeed the peace that passes understanding, the wholeness at the centre of a broken world.
Where might you find him this year?