Column: Our unkempt guest at Christmas

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
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I was brought up in Liverpool and at Christmas time my parents invited someone interesting for Christmas dinner.

They were usually individuals who would have been on their own and seemed glad to join in our family festivities. So it was not a big step to want to follow suit when I had my own family.

We were living on Shadsworth estate in Blackburn nearly 40 years ago and among our Christmas guests was Margaret. Poor Margaret had had a hard life but she had found comfort in the little church on the estate and in having her cigarettes, or nerve steadiers as she called them.

She also had a pronounced lean sideways which made transporting her in the car a little challenging.

We knew that Margaret had a husband John but he was rarely seen. However, on this particular Christmas day, Margaret had accepted our invitation to tea and turned up with John in tow. It was hardly Christmas jumper time as John was wearing a torn string vest, Onslow style, a very stained pair of trousers tied up with string and those pebbly type glasses that were crying out for a clean.

My wife and I made them welcome but within two minutes it was my then two year-old daughter Rachel, generally suspicious of strangers, who went across to sit on John’s knee, smiling. She sat there in gleaming white cardigan, totally oblivious of John’s unkempt appearance and dirty clothes.

I was thrown. Part of me wanted to go and pick my daughter up and rescue her from this situation. Another part of me was transfixed at the way a child had seen past what most adults perceive by outward appearance and was relating happily to John. I believe her childlike friendliness and openness made his Christmas special, much more than our Christmas meal did.

As I reflected on it afterwards I was struck how it revealed something of the Christmas story. The Christ child comes innocent and pure into the midst of stained and broken humanity. He doesn’t hold back. He shares our life. Even while we were still sinners He lived and died for us. I’m sure there must have been times when His heavenly father wanted to protect Him and lift Him out of the situation.

He didn’t of course and so out of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross the chance of the restoration of a broken relationship with God was made possible.

“Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, love divine;

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and angels gave the sign.”

(Christina Rossetti)