"'What is REAL?' asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. 'Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?'
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up.' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
from Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Hardly a day goes by without someone - often a politician of one shade or another on the radio - using the phrase "The Reality is ....' before telling me what they want me to think about what is real.
In Bethlehem and Jerusalem tonight 'The Real is unbearable for many. In Iraq and many other countries, the real for Christians is one of fear, uncertainty and danger.
It is not only Christians who are living in this state of fractured hopes and increasing danger, as our Archbishop reminded us all this week after his visit to the Holy land with other church leaders.
So what is real?
We too, as we engaged in the drama leading up to tonight, found ourselves asking the same question, though without the sense of urgency of those who live among bombs and bullets. For us the problem is not so much the physical danger, which dramatically affects the lives of so many. It is rather the fact that so much of the Christmas hype tends to obscure the reality of what we are celebrating at this moment in this place.
Our reality, the reality of the Incarnation as we know it, is the truth that as we go about our daily tasks, as we engage with one another in the fragile relationships that life is all about, as we move through life and face increased illness, disability and dependence, and think of what lies beyond the confines of this world, we do so with awareness of Jesus, the baby born for us today.
That event, that birth, that baby, speaks to us of the God who walks always beside us as friend and companion. The one who challenges but does not judge, invites but does not command, beckons but never coerces, offers, but leaves us free. So let us try to do two things tonight.
Let us in the quietness and peace of our world stand round this altar with our lit candles in solidarity with those millions of people, Christians and others for whom this night like many others is a night of fear, and the ever present likelihood of the disruption of family life.
And may we all, as we receive the Word of God in bread and wine, renew our vision of the one who walks through life alongside us, quiet and unseen, and will never abandon or forsake us.
May the Newborn Child grant us all his blessing on this most holy Night.
Nicholas Roberts, Ham Chaplain