We have a weird angel hanging on our Christmas tree, a monobrowed herald of the birth of Christ. He’s smiling, I think; that or grinding his teeth (which may be why he appears to be missing one). He’s also bald, which you don’t often see in angels. And even though he’s an angel, thanks to my wife’s talent for giving things slightly off-beat names, his name is Norman.
My eldest son made Norman at school last year, and while it’s not exactly in the tradition of Christmas iconography, I like that we’ve got a kinda odd looking angel lurking among the fairy lights. We can sanitise Christmas too much, hiding the dirt and the worry and the scandal: Mary is beatific, the kings are regal, the animals are clean and the angels are blonde. And while that makes for a pretty Christmas card, it doesn’t help the idea of Jesus as Immanuel, God with us in reality, not iconography.
Because Mary was an unmarried mother about to give birth in a cave. The wise men were astrologers, the shepherds were despised, and sitting on the throne was a puppet-despot with death squads waiting in the wings. The heavenly host appeared in the sky and sang a song designed to stick two fingers up at the most powerful man in the world. The Nativity is messy and inclusive and radical, and it’s easy to forget that. I do it all the time.
So our ugly angel is a reminder; a reminder that Immanuel is with us – the misfits, the fearful, the depressed and the broken, survivors and addicts, the sinners and those who struggle to be saints. He’s in churches and cathedrals, sure, but also in doorways and shelters, hospitals and prisons, foodbanks, AA meetings, care homes, street corners and with the neglected and the forgotten and the over-looked and the hated. Our Christmases have to reflect that, otherwise we’re missing much of the point.
There’s a part of me that thinks Norman should have a more, well, angelic name. I killed a few minutes Googling, and came up with Adriyel – Of God’s Flock. Because that flock contains multitudes – all races, all tribes, all identities, all abilities, all appearances – and is bigger and stranger and more complicated than we give it credit for. But the name Norman has stuck, and for as long as he’s with us,,he has a place on our tree, a reminder that Christmas should be a time for weird angels.