How can you be married to someone for 19 ½ years and not know that they hate Branston Pickle? Of course I knew it wasn’t his favourite, that he preferred his mum’s homemade pickle or maybe organic chutneys containing local fruit and vegetables. But hate? Such a strong word for an unassuming classic.
To be honest, it wasn’t just the shock revelation about condiments that rocked my world, it was the use of the word ’hate’. Anyone who knows him would say that it isn’t a word you would expect him to say. (And while we are on the subject, he also hates twice-toasted toast. Now you know.) You can spend a lot of time with nice people before you know what they are simply tolerating.
If you were ever at our house at a mealtime, you might assume that Phil also loves to do the washing up. He is often the first to the sink and sees the job through to the end. However, if you did come to that conclusion, you would be wrong. He feels the same way about washing dishes that most of the rest of us do. But he does them because he loves us. (At least I know that much.)
It’s easy to take things at face value, to think we know something or someone. He might have gone on eating cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches politely for even more years without saying anything. The family could wrongly have assumed he had a love of suds.
It’s hard sometimes, too, to feel anything fresh about Christmas. We know that story. We’ve sung those carols. There’s nothing new here.
Except that there can be if we give time to go there. There is lots to wonder about. This year the new question that occurred to me was, ‘ did Mary to go with Joseph to Bethlehem to register in the census because it was legally compulsory for her too – or did they decide to do that?’
Or a familiar Christmas carol has suddenly made sense. I realised in a carol service last week that the words of ‘Long Ago Prophets Knew’ make us imagine that we are right there in the stable, in the middle of labour, waiting for the baby to be born- celebrating even before the birth has happened. Though I’ve sung it many times, it became powerfully new and different. (Lyrics here, tune here, if you are interested.)
In an attempt to see Christmas from a different angle, we’ve been looking with a group of students at some of the songs that pop up around the Christmas story in the book of Luke. I’ve been struck again in our conversations that these are not easy or safe words, but are passionate and political and world-changing. This is a moment like no other.
What are you longing for this Christmas? We all have different ways of approaching and celebrating this season, but I’ll share links to the passages below in case you would like to find a few moments to use them to go deeper, discover something that speaks to you and maybe experience new hope and new joy and new love this Christmas (whether or not it is blessed with Branston Pickle).