Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were splendid occasions. As a family we were able to go to our first village Weihnachtsmarkt in Bad Krozingen to sample some of the local Gluwein and cast our eyes on the three story high Christmas Pyramide (usually a small wooden windmill-like structure that is turned by the heat of candles). We had family visitors stay with us for four days. Anke’s parents, Helmut and Eva brought with them a couple of tins of homemade Christmas cookies which we are still able to enjoy. They also brought with them gifts, and a bird named Hansel. Hansel, a yellow canary, made the journey down from Stuttgart and sang for us through Christmas. Hansel was the bird of Anke’s Aunt Gretel, who sadly died several years ago. You see the theme already with the names of the owner and the small bird. The day that Helmut and Eva left to return to Stuttgart, our new house mate sung his final song. While changing water and food and giving his cage a tidy Hansel died. We were upset to say the least. It was difficult to see that Hansel had large tumours under his wings and had managed to service with cancer for a few years.
A few days since, we have had an empty and well-scrubbed bird cage sitting in the corner of the room. An empty tomb in Christmas made things feel more like Good Friday. I have always enjoyed birds, both wild and as pets, so it did not take long to find some new house mates. Out of the death of one elderly and ill canary has come two Zebra Finches named…yes, you guessed it – Hansel and Gretel. Now with each new day we are pleasantly woken with tiny trumpet like chirps from this lovely pair of small birds. (We have been informed that as long as nothing nest-like is available to them, it will stay as two birds chirping, rather than a flock squawking).
For some of us it seems like death should play no part in our Christmas celebrations, but in my past ministry it often seemed that as the cold wind blew and the days were dark and icy that it was then that some of the more fragile community members did die. As we approach Epiphany the gifts that were given to the infant Christ were significant and symbolic of the Messiah’s birth, life and death. Within this season we also remember in the church the Holy Innocents’ killed because of Herod’s fears that one would usurp him in his power and reign. Christmas is the birth of Jesus, but it is also a reminder of God incarnate being with us, suffering for us, and rising to save us.