Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

I have an angel who hangs beside the chair in my study. My angel is not like the angels I imagine when I think of shepherds shaking in terror at “the glory of the Lord.”

My angel is a slightly tattered lady angel. She wears a faded dress, below which stick out her thin twiggy legs. She has obviously missed her appointment with the hair dresser. On top of her head tumbles an untidy frizzled mass of curls spilling out in all directions. Her halo is crooked. Her spindly arms are raised to the heavens from which she has come. She has a brown string bow tied to a button beneath her chin; curly wire and tinsel tumble down the length of her dress. Her crooked wings made of raffia stick out at awkward angles from her back.

Her dress is a patchwork pattern of Santa Claus, candy canes, flowers, hearts, mittens. My angel is a kitschy Christmas angel. But she hangs by my chair all year round. She is a comforting angel. She was given to me eighteen years ago by a woman now dead who traveled with me through a confusing, troubling and mysterious chapter of my life.

I keep my little Christmas angel hanging in my room because she reminds me of a difficult and painful time and of my inept attempts to cope with the complexities of life I so often encounter. She reminds me that even when I was least able to perceive the presence of God, that presence had not abandoned me. I was not alone in this dark mysterious time.

The mystery of this season is that all our expectations of how God should appear, what life ought to look like, and how we think the story should unfold, are worth nothing. As Jesus grew into a man, he was constantly frustrated by the expectations he encountered of what a Messiah should look like.

But this season of mystery tells us from the outset that God does not conform to our expectations or demands. God is found in the unexpected.

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12)

The Christmas story is so much more like my poor frazzled angel than it is like the stories of power and glamour in which I long to share. This season of mystery tells a story of those who are weak and forsaken, those who have no influence in the affairs of the world, those who find it hard to cope. The main characters in this story bear a greater resemblance to me than I would like to admit.

The Hebrew prophecy of Isaiah speaks of a servant who will come who “shall startle many nations.” (Isaiah 52:15) The description is often taken in Christian tradition as as a prophetic vision of Jesus who when he lived on this earth,

had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
(Isaiah 53:2)

To perceive the mystery of this season I must give up my dreams of power and glory. I must let go of my need to appear in the eyes of the world as a person whose life is always tidy and under control. The mystery of this season is that I am most able to perceive the presence of God when I acknowledge that my life is out of control, that I am not powerful and smart as I would like to be.

The miracle of Christmas comes much closer to me when I am like that quirky frazzled angel hanging on my study wall.