Tag Archives: Advent

Christmas Kisses

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From Church Ads 2009 campaign

No, not the ones under the mistletoe, but we’ll get to that!

I think I get the whole Advent/Christmas thing the wrong way round. Advent is certainly the season of preparation, but it’s rather frantic. It’s meant to be a season of reflection and penitence, time to take stock and wait patiently and expectantly for the light of the world. Instead I find myself rushing around with an ever increasing to-do list. I’ve found unopened emails dating back to 14th November (sorry Carolyn!), but I have now actually bought a turkey. Perhaps my anxiety dreams might stop now…

On the other hand, when Christmas actually comes, the bit that’s really the fun, noise and celebration, that’s when I really get the chance to pause and reflect. I’m looking forward to our candlelit carol service at church tonight, when I can sit in the quiet half-light and finally stop.

People talk about ‘thin’ places. Places where the separation between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, seems to be thinner than usual. Often these are places where many people over the centuries have had deep encounters with God. Places like Lindisfarne or Iona, where God seems nearer, closer to hand. Sometimes the place is just a thin place for an individual. The top of a mountain is a good candidate.

For me, Christmas is a thin place. I guess that’s not surprising, considering what happened on the first Christmas. The separation between earth and heaven was stretched so thin on that night, that God actually broke through. He became human and made his home on the earth. He became that baby, born to parents far from home, and laid his head on the straw because all the beds were taken. And through the rip in the membrane between heaven and earth, the night workers on the hill looking after the sheep were able to see right into heaven and get a glimpse the angels worshipping God. Meanwhile, Mary, Jesus’s mother, captures the wonder and mindblowing-ness of the incarnation as she holds the baby Jesus, God, in her arms. As one carol speculates, of all the people who came to worship this baby, she was the one who was able to worship him with a kiss.

And so we come to the Christmas kisses. Each Christmas I’m reminded that there is no longer any separation between God and his creation, however many barriers we construct. Christmas is a thin place, so thin that there is no separation. God’s gift of his son, his becoming present on the earth, is to me like God kissing the earth. As if he reaches down and touches everyone of us with his embrace, filling the space between earth and heaven. And in the quiet tonight, or when the choir starts to sing, in the thin space where God is close at hand, I will be looking for a glimpse of the angels so that I can join in with their singing, with their message of peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

I like this carol by Edmund Sears with its imagery of heaven being open to earth.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

 

 

 

Stir Up Sunday

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Last Sunday was Stir Up Sunday – the day we are meant to make our Christmas puddings. Of course, the Sunday before Advent is officially known as Christ the King, and although the old collect is no longer part of the new liturgy, the post-Communion prayer starts “Stir up, O Lord…”

But I’m not here to discuss Anglican liturgy! As it was Christ the King on Sunday, the leader of the service in my church asked the congregation to think about what might happen if we had a new king. What should the king be like, what would we like to tell the king, and what would we like the king to do? A really strong theme emerged, suggesting that the king should know what it was like to be an ordinary person, rather than a rich person. People suggested he should come and see what our lives were like, to live on a low income for a while, to understand what it is like when you can’t pay the bills.

Without realising, I reckon we summed up the incarnation, what it means that Christ is King. Because Jesus left the riches and wonder of heaven, and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). Jesus lived among ordinary people, experienced human life in all its fullness and saw what our lives are like. This is our king!

In the run up to Christmas especially, we think about the nature of this king’s birth. This shows up more about how Jesus identifies with humanity. It is pretty difficult for mere mortals to have much of an idea what it was like to leave heaven and live on earth, though some song-writers have a go, for example “Sacred infant, all divine, what a tender love was thine, thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this”. But, with the understanding that God had a choice in the circumstances of this earthly birth, we can recognise their significance and have an idea what that might have been like. Jesus was not born to wealthy parents with a high status in society, but to an unmarried teenage mother with a fiancé who nearly disowned her. He was not born in a palace fit for a king, but in the space reserved for the animals, sleeping not in a crib but in a trough. And within two years of his birth, Jesus had become a refugee, fleeing to Egypt in fear of his life.

In giving up heavenly glory, Jesus didn’t try to replace it with whatever worldly glory might be available. Instead, God chose to identify with the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the refugee. For me, this is just one example of God’s intrinsic bias towards the poor, those without a voice, without power. This is the nature of Christ the King. Our king “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:6-8.

If this is our king, and the example we should follow, then perhaps it is still Stir Up Sunday after all.