Snow-drifts form year-round along Rye Lane.
The fishmongers shovel out their smelly ice into the drains, and with your eyes half-closed you could almost see a traditional Christmas scene. Snow had fallen, snow on snow.
With eyes opened, there’s more colour. Fruit boxes and discarded veg. Lit-up butchers shops, and roof-high stacks of tins and packets of seasoning I didn’t see much before I came to Peckham. Nail bars, phone accessories winking, sheaves of hair.
Walking back from church today I was overwhelmed with the glorious ordinariness of it all. Peckham’s fishmongers and butchers, commuters and Christmas-shoppers, parents and school-children, just getting on with being themselves. Next week God might be born. But today I need to get a bus, I need some peppers, I’ve got one day left of school. Forget traditional Christmas scenes. This is the week before Christmas, Mary and Joseph wandering around Bethlehem looking for a room in streets with colour and smells and ordinary people crowding them.
Along Rye Lane there are anonymous doors to flats squeezed between the shops. Mary and Joseph knock at one – a distant relative offers the back of his shop to sleep in. Another couple getting on with the immediate, with what needs to be done. Easy to miss.
And I think about how invisible it was, really – the birth of God. To the shepherds, the outsiders – yes, the big angel chorus – but to those brushing past Mary and Joseph on the bustling street – just another couple, another unremarkable baby-bump. In little, insignificant Bethlehem.
Sometimes God does enter our lives with an angel chorus. But sometimes just like this. Moving in next door whilst we’re looking away. Turn around and there’s an extra guest at the table, raising a glass for all the world as though he’s the host. You stop, and listen, and find that there’s been someone speaking to you all along.