Every little girl longs to be an angel. And in our yearly advent pageant they have a chance to fly, donning the white gown of hastily cut sheeting, the wreath of a sparkly tinsel halo and the cardboard wings.
And they glow these angels all in white, the sparkle of the tinsel eclipsed only by the sparkle in their eyes, and how these simple angels wings make them soar.
And the white dress it must be long enough and white enough, it can’t be above the knees. One tall girl made me search through the pile, it must be long enough and big enough. Long enough to float and dance in the breeze and long enough cover everything; For these little angels there is sometimes much to hide, much they cover over with silence. Like the open gashes of one brave little angel who’s father had beaten her with an iron the day before, open wounds which I had treated and patched while she held her gown up high and kept her halo straight. Like the bruises of other angels from this war waged against childhood; The same war their parents felt as children, now replicated again in them. And before they’re eight they know the words by heart; The words that wound and wreck, until the scar tissue welts thick enough, the layer of numbness around their angel hearts hardened like a cocoon, shielding them, protecting them, reforming them; preparing them for war.
Last year while all in white and tinselled crown one of our angels had felt affronted by another angel stepping on her foot. So she’d grabbed a rusty nail from the ground attempting to stab her for the offence. Then a leader’s hand was quick to intervene.
But those kind firm arms of restraint are not always there, not there when the blows fall in their yards, int their homes and on their hearts.
Silent night holy night all is calm all is bright. But where is peace on earth? Peace on this little patch of earth with over 10,000 cases of reported child abuse each year? Peace on earth here, where in 2008 a monument was erected to commemorate children who had been killed on this small island from 2004 onwards, where last year there were 668 names on this monument and no more room to add any more. Where is this peace on earth?
Every little girl longs to be an angel, some to soar and some to fly away.
This other little girl, the quiet one, the one that never speaks; She had wanted to be an angel too. But she didn’t get her wings. Not this year.
While she waited by the gate for it all to begin she made the mistake of stepping on another little girls shoe. Affronted, and conditioned for war the other little not-yet-angel swung, pelting with fists and fury the little girl without any wings. And this other little girl, the one that had wanted to be an angel too, she could not fly away, so her fists did all the flying, defending her face from the belting, beating blows. And it took two of our strongest leaders to tear them apart.
Home they were both sent, wingless. But many of us have a very different experience of home than some of these not-yet-angels have.
She didn’t go home. She sat, hidden in the shadows of a tree, on a discarded rusted-out-fridge a hundred metres away watching all the angels with sparkling halos and sparkling eyes and gowns which hid all the pain and wings that took them out of here.
She had no wings, sitting there alone. I saw her in the distance and called her name, but she didn’t hear me. I was parked on the road thirty meters away waiting for the angels, the shepherds and the wise men. This year I was the designated driver for our Advent parade, the car with the large speaker on the roof blaring out the carols. Blaring out the ‘peace on earth’ the ‘all is calm’ the ‘all is bright’.
And so we began. And the angels and the shepherds and the wise men walked behind me through the streets singing boisterously, laughing gleefully and enjoying the astonished smiles of passers by. Like a stream of light breaks through grey clouds the children flooded light through the streets and the sparkle in their eyes ignited sparks in older eyes and smiles on tired faces, worn with years. The tired faces, being accustomed to other kinds of raised voices in their streets, stopped and stared, sometimes smiling, sometimes looking wistful. They stared at the angels soaring and shepherds singing and the wisemen bringing gifts, the gifts of a remembering of something, something long ago.
Silent night holy night, all is calm all is bright. Light breaks through in the darkest of places and in the darkest of moments it is seen most clearly.
We stop at four locations on our walk through three communities in Trenchtown, asking for room at the Inn. There never was any room.
The second last place the merry crowd was approaching happened to be the small board shop where the Angel-with-no-wings’ mother worked.
We were about two hundred metres away now, and ‘all is bright’; all sparkling light and energy and glee.
From the vantage of my front row seat behind the wheel I see the Angel-with-no-wings arriving quietly, head down, at her mother’s shop. I saw a brief interaction with her mother where she obviously became aware that her daughter had been sent home from club. And from that point until we were almost there, all was not calm and there was no peace on earth. Only beating and crying and flinging against board, again and again and again. And the baby on the mothers hip absorbed it all in fear, and the Angel-with-no-wings didn’t run, and she could not fly away.
There are times and places where there is no peace on earth.
We arrived on that earth, the earth without the peace, and children dressed as angels and shepherds swarmed around singing carols joyously oblivious to what had just passed. Like a flood they gushed between the mother and her daughter, creating islands of them both.
I got out of the car and motioned to the angel with no wings across the top of the singing voices, over the halos of the angels with wings and gowns that hide all the pain. She slipped like a shadow around the crowd and tucked her shoulders under my arm. And as I wrap my arm around her, her tears well up and spill over, spilling out the pain that no angel dress can hide. And I whisper in her ear. “Did Mummy beat you because you were sent home from Club?” She nods yes and my heart feels like a lead weight in my chest and there is no peace on earth.
I motion to her mother to come, and before she has reached me she barrages her daughter with further abuse, “she has no behaviour” she says, in her mind vindicating her violence with her words, the violence she knows I saw. And the children all around us are singing carols oblivious, all sparkling and all bright. But I have forgotten all the words and I wish I’d had more words to say, words to make it stop, words to intervene, to meet her mothers words mid air, to tear them down and replace them with other words that heal, words like ‘all is calm’, words like ‘peace on Earth’. Peace on this earth, this earth beneath our feet right here and now. But I could find few words, and I didn’t have the bridge, the path of trust between her mother’s heart and mine which would enable her to hear my words, beyond the letters that spell them out.
Where is the calm and the bright? When does the war end? When do little girls who long to be angels get to fly? Can Christmas bring the peace on Earth we long for?
‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Isaiah 9:6
Prince of Peace.
I wish that peace on Earth and the pretty Christmas card manger scene was true. I wish the ‘all is calm’ and ‘all is bright’ was true. But it wasn’t then, and it isn’t today, not here in Kingston or anywhere else on Earth, this Earth, the one with all the pain.
The baby Prince of Peace did not come into a pretty Christmas card Nativity scene. He came as a vulnerable baby covered in blood and amniotic fluid into the grit and pain of a world with not enough love and too much violence; a world much like this earth today. This baby Prince of Peace’ first breath was drawn not in a warm hospitable home with fire blazing in the hearth, but in the cold dark air of a stable, surrounded by the muck and mire of animal feces, reminders of the poverty of his worn out weary parents. He came into the gritty, dark, violent world of Roman domination and as a toddler became a refugee, fleeing as the war against children whirled around him. And there were no white robes to hide the dead babies strewn on streets in Bethlehem and no wings for them to fly away. The same streets once walked by shepherds and Magi now ran with the blood of baby boys born on the wrong year in Herod’s reign. I wonder if their parents erected a monument for them and wrote their names on it, and maybe, like here on this earth, there was not enough room to contain them.
Jesus was born and raised under Roman domination and he would eventually understand from the inside what it meant to be beaten and flung against boards. And he didn’t fly away. He stayed on this earth, the earth without the peace, the one with all the pain.
Angels-with-no-wings belong to a Prince of Peace who understands their scars from the inside of violence. He’s been there.
But does that mean there is no peace on earth?
‘And He will be the source of Peace’ Micah 5:5
And in preparation for the first Christmas God set things in place years in advance so that when the advent of his son’s arrival on Earth ‘it just so happened’ that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and it ‘just so happened’ that the Roman Empire called a census, and it ‘just so happened’ that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem so that every prophecy about the coming Prince of Peace could be fulfilled. Fulfilled. Fully-filled. In the first two chapters of Matthew he points out five old testament prophecies alone that were fully filled by the circumstances around Christ’s birth. Because from the beginning the Prince of Peace was on a mission, to fully fill this empty world with peace. And he is bringing peace to Earth in ways we can’t imagine, not peace of mind or peace pocket, not even peace from war. But the only peace that has the chance of bringing lasting peace; peace from the inside out. Peace in broken hearts; Peace in Him. Because there is no peace on earth outside of the love of this Prince of Peace. There is no peace on Earth, only peace in Him.
Shalom (biblical peace) does not mean the absence of war. It means the presence of completeness, things just as they should be, even in the midst of war. We are only complete when he is our peace, and we can only have peace when he is where he should be, at the centre of our being.
And ‘it just so happened’ that this Prince of Peace is at work today, even in the midst of all our wars. The wars of we who long to be angels and the wars of little girls who long to fly.
And in preparation for this Christmas God set things in place years in advance so that ‘It just so happened’ that The-Angel-without-wings didn’t come to receive her Christmas gift on the day of our final kids club celebration, so David and the Fusion team took this gift to her and the handful of other children who had been missing. And when they found her that night in the wilderness of the community called ‘Jungle’ it ‘just so happened’ that the angel with no wings’ mother had known David from long ago. In fact she had sent her children to club because she’d met him years ago and trusted him. And on the strength of that bridge of trust that night David spoke the words that had failed me in the days before, the words that came first from the Prince of Peace, the words that tore down the normality of violence and restored the value of little girls who long to be angels. And It just so happened that a seed for peace was planted in a heart that night and an angel without wings was helped to fly, just a little.
Not because there is peace on Earth, but because there is a Prince of Peace, on Earth. This earth right here beneath our feet.
‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’.