As we approach Christmas this time around, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve lived through a year like no other. Who knew, when we wished everyone a Happy New Year and watched the fireworks in London as Big Ben struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, that 2020 would be so unusual?!
It got me wondering whether that first Christmas would have managed to happen at all, had it taken place in 2020, rather than 4AD (or whichever year it actually happened!).
Let’s start with the census. Everyone had to leave their own town and return to their ancestral home to register for taxation purposes. Well, Brexit is coming and who knows whether people would have been able to travel? Mary and Joseph would have travelled from the north to the south – Tier 2 to Tier 3 – is that even allowed?! When they got to Bethlehem, would the inns have even been open and, if they were, would they accept people from a different region? We say inns, but the reality is slightly different. The word, ‘inn’, can also be translated as a ‘guest room’. People lived in ‘Oikos’ – extended family homes, where two or three generations, aunts and uncles, cousins and everyone else would live in community together. Their homes were attached, like flats almost, with a communal space in the middle. The ‘inn’ was probably more of an ‘Oikos’ for Joseph’s extended family. Well, we all know that only ‘up to 3 households’ can spend Christmas together – so that plan is off the table!
Having arrived, Mary and Joseph are given ‘the place where animals are kept’ to say in. Fair enough, probably a cave type space that belonged to the oikos. It’s virtually outdoors living, so that’s ok. However, would Joseph be allowed to be present at the birth of the new baby? Then, having given birth, they let the shepherds in! What?! Were they tested first? Are they allowed to meet indoors? Did they wear a mask? Surely, that’s mixing bubbles!
Eighteen months, or so, later they’re visited by the Magi, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Please tell me that those gifts were left outside for a minimum of three days to decontaminate and how on earth were they allowed to visit without ten days quarantine first. However, Iran (which is where they most likely came from) may have been one of the travel corridors which was open. After that, Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to Egypt! Is it even wise to go to a holiday destination at this time? I hope their travel insurance had Covid cancellation cover in there!
Tradition tells us that Joseph passed away at a young age, so maybe his underlying health conditions meant that he and Mary had been vaccinated at the Totally Wicked Stadium, and so everything could have gone as we know it! Who can say?!
Of course, I jest, but when you think about it in those terms, our lives have all been impacted in so many ways this year. I have been so proud of the way that people have pulled together and supported one another through these challenges. Speaking of our club, I want to name drop two people who have stood out to me, as going above and beyond the call of duty to make things run as smoothly as they have. They are John Murphy, our Stadium Manager [and our Chairman’s Award Winner for 2020], who has worked tirelessly to keep the doors open when they have needed to be, and Charlie Wilton, who has been our Covid Officer and has overseen a very successful programme of testing and strategies to keep our squad and staff healthy.
Going back to the Christmas Story, one of the names given to Jesus was ‘Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God with Us’. Speaking as a Christian chaplain, I am so grateful to believe that God has been with us through this challenging year. If you don’t share my worldview, in terms of faith, that’s fine. I’m not here to preach at you. What I do see though, is that our shared experiences of 2020 have developed a stronger sense of community and family as a human race.
At the end of a hugely successful season, where we have been crowned as back-to-back champions, let’s remember that special name that was given to Jesus – ‘Emmanuel’. We may not be able to be present with one another, in the usual ways this Christmas, but let’s look out for the lonely, share love and friendship with those who matter to us and, allow me to pray for you, that you would know God’s nearness through the season.