I’ve been thinking a lot this week about smells – about the smell of Christmas. I don’t know why, I’m not sure what brought it on, but I have tried to work out what smell captures Christmas best.
The sights and sounds of Christmas are not hard to identify – the twinkling lights, the tinsel and trees, the jingling bells and the Christmas Carols.
What does Christmas taste like? Well, it tastes like roasted chestnuts, it tastes like turkey and ham and mince pies.
And it feels like warm hugs.
But what does it smell like.
When you walk into the Manse, you’ll be greeted by the scent of cinnamon and in the kitchen you’ll smell something roasting in the oven.
In other homes it might be the smell of mulled wine or scented candles. When I walked through the town centre yesterday, past some of the restaurants, I could smell ham being cooked.
So many smells that we associate with Christmas.
But I couldn’t help but think of the smell of that very first Christmas: the smell that greeted the baby as He entered into this world.
My daughters have been eagerly opening their Tradecraft “Real Advent Calendar” each morning this month, with each window containing a chocolate and another part of the Christmas story. There’s also a little booklet that comes with the calendar that has thoughts and challenges for each day. Yesterday’s final entry went like this:
‘Where were you born? Bet it wasn’t in a stable. That’s where Jesus was born – with smelly animals all around him. The shepherds were poor and smelled a bit. The wise men were rich and important. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they came to see Jesus. They wanted to say, “You are my King” to kneel and thank him for coming.’
It seems to me that their advent calendar was confirming what I had been thinking for the past few days: Christmas does not smell as good as we would like it to smell – the smell of Christmas is the smell of a dirty barn full of farm animals and a tired sweaty donkey. It’s the smell of unwashed shepherds and a man and a woman who have been travelling for days.
When the people of Israel were looking for their Messiah the place they should have found him was in a palace with the scent of wealth – of good food and expensive wines, of perfumes and burning incense. They would not expect to find the Messiah in a smelly, dirty barn.
But then the God we worship turns up in the most unexpected places. We can find God in the homes of the wealthy, but we also find Him in the homes of the poor.
In fact we find God in places we would not expect to find him and we find him in places we would not choose to be:
In the streets and slums of Calcutta; in the homeless shelters of London, in a refugee camp in Lebanon, in the home of a displaced Palestinian and in a settler home on the West Bank.
The smell of Christmas is dirty and messy and smelly because that’s where God turns up. Even in our own messy lives.
We are told that Christmas is the time to be jolly. We wish each other a Happy or a Merry Christmas. We are told that Christmas is about family.
But it’s not like that for everyone, because sometimes Christmas doesn’t look like it’s supposed to look. It doesn’t smell the way we expect it to smell.
Perhaps Christmas this year doesn’t look or feel the way you had hoped or expected it to be. But that doesn’t mean that God is not in it, that God is not in the midst of the unexpected twists and turns your life is taking.
Because when you take away the farm animals and the messy barn and the dirty shepherds and earthly parents, what you find at the centre of it all is Jesus.
Today I’m not going to wish you a happy Christmas, because for some reading this it might not be a happy time. But I pray that on this Christmas day you will find God in the midst of everything that is happening.
May God bless you at this time.
Rev Rowan Zeelie