Desert Rats

Christmas is a great time of year, but it’s not necessarily a holiday for everyone. A lot of vicars work hard at Christmas, but not as hard as post men. Most of us hardly ever use the post nowadays but at Christmas the queues in the post office are pretty bad!

My husband was a postman for about 4 years and he lost a lot of weight and now walks very fast! His dad worked for the Royal Mail in the sorting office but during the second world war, he was part of the Desert Rats and spent his war years in Africa and India. They moved around a lot and my father in law Jim’s job involved driving supplies. Apparently you could fry an egg on the jeep bonnet. They didn’t have a base-camp. It must have been really hard going.

For Christmas I’ve bought my husband a book written by a Desert rat, Alex Macintyre, ‘Love Letters from a Desert Rat’ I’m hoping he likes it, as it’s difficult to find something he really wants.  It’s a series of letters that Alex faithfully wrote home to his sweetheart Nan, published by their daughter.

On the 25th December In 1941 they were in the desert, in Egypt. Alex writes about what it’s like there. He talks about the food and the other men, but the main event is the letters arriving from home. It sounds like the post was pretty unpredictable and Nan might not have received his letter until the spring time, but they just got used to waiting for news.

25.12.1941 There was no parcels or letters last night. I know that you posted your parcel early enough, but it won’t arrive for Christmas now.

My dear Nan, seems strange that I should be writing to you in the Desert during Christmas Day. This time of year one is reminded of ‘Peace on Earth’ and yet looking around the present surroundings one sees nothing that is not connected with war and with destruction.

Dear wife, today is a very unpleasant day indeed. A dust storm has been raging since early morning. Can you try and visualise a typical March day at home, when there is rain, being blown up and down Shields Road, by a very high wind?  You know the kind of days, Nan, when the rain is washing down the faces of the tenements and perhaps bringing down a chimney or two. Well Nan, picture that wind carrying sand instead of rain, a very fine sand. The sun is blotted out and it looks like fog. Dust is everywhere, in your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, even between your teeth.’

He always ends with a positive…

 “Keep the chin up.”

“It is always darkest before the dawn.”

“If you have your health and a sense of humour you can cope with almost anything.”

We haven’t got the full story about Mac and Nan, as Mac had to burn all the letters he received, and talks about having a little bonfire and thinking of her.

In the readings at Carol Concerts we hear about all these people going on journeys, and we are reminded of the old story from thousands of years ago. It gives us a small glimpse, like this book of what life was like in those times. We haven’t got the full picture, but we can imagine Mary and Joseph, crossing the desert, with sand in their teeth, or the wise men riding miles on camels with a retinue of helpers to get them from A to B.

We don’t know exactly what happened because Jesus story is so old, and lots of pieces of the jigsaw are missing. But we know that as Christians this little baby became a man who changed the world.

One of the things that can unite us across the world, and back into to the past, is looking at the world around us. Not the presents under the tree, or the fairy lights, but the stars in the sky, the wind in our ears, and the earth beneath us. Wherever are loved ones are, we can be confident they are looking at the same stars at night.

The wonder of Christmas should be like trying to work out which star is which, or how far away is the nearest galaxy. Loving a god in our day and age, can seem like a mystery. But what’s wrong with the odd bit of mystery?

When times are tough, most of us will pray. But we don’t have to wait for a crisis to happen. We have the chance anytime to ask for his help, and sometimes we might just catch that falling star, and  get a message back.

We can say.. I don’t know what to do god, or why is this happening god? Why me? We can ask for practical help… how do I put my shoes on?, or simply say hello to god through our prayers.

It’s not always like email, I haven’t found God’s facebook page yet, not sure if he has a twitter account,  it’s more like writing to a loved one miles away in a desert somewhere, hoping it arrives, and not knowing how long it will take..

When we do get a letter back, when we hear from god, in our day to day lives, through an answered prayer, a smile or a hug, a moment of clarity, a good day amongst the more difficult ones… it can really feel like god has been with us all along, in our day to day journeys and not so far away after all.

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