Brexit is guaranteed on January 31 next year, more or less, and will come the best part of a year late. It feels like a lot longer. Perhaps this is because leaving the EU has been been postponed one (March 29), two (April 12), three (end of June), four times (October 31, “do or die”). Or maybe because when it happens it will take place the best part of four years after the referendum result of June 23 2016.
Christmas is bigger than Brexit, but the two have that in common: waiting. Nonetheless, it doesn’t always seem to be so in the former case, for two main reasons.
First, the event which inspires the holiday, the birth of Jesus Christ, took place over two millenia ago, and one doesn’t wait for an occasion which has already happened.
Second, we’re not much good at waiting anyway. Many people celebrate Christmas in some way long before December 25: think of the office party, for example. By the time Boxing Day comes round, there can be a sense of exhaustion. There is no more melancholy sight than seeing stripped Christmas trees slung out on the street that day, only the second of the twelve days of Christmas.
But if an event is important then it’s worth waiting for. And waiting and Christmas are inextricably linked. At the time of the birth of Christ, the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah. Words from one of the most famous Christmas hymns of all strike the right note: “late in time behold him come”. The season of Advent, which nears its end today, is all about anticipation.
Some who celebrate Christmas in two days time will believe in the story of Jesus Christ, others won’t, and others still will be indifferent to it. But all have in common – as with those who have never heard the tale at all – the experience of waiting.
We wait for health to recover, broken friendships to revive, family quarrels to be made up; wounds to heal; for recognition, promotion, reconciliation, success, a fresh start, wealth, power, happiness, forgiveness, even love. And must square up to some of these, perhaps all of them, never coming at all, as we fill in our time like the two tramps in the Beckett play. Perhaps they can’t come again in any event.
It will bring no cheer at all to some, but Christmas is about joy suddenly coming – and turning expectations upside-down. God arrives not amidst clouds of glory, but in the form of a child. He is born not in a palace, but a manger. He is greeted with myrrh as well as gold, and his parents must flee for their lives (and his).
Cynical and non-Christian though some of us may be, Brexiteers should take the point. Long waited-for events can happen. Something can turn up. Don’t despair, because life is full of surprises – as this year, with its extraordinary turnaround, has shown. Christmas is a sign that joy can break out. Just when it’s least expected.