Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth, and God in man!
Great little one! Whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.
— “In the Holy Nativity of our Lord”
Richard Crashaw, 1648
How to sum up the wonders of my first Christmas as a priest?
Christmas Eve began gently, with wonderful vicar and I saying Morning Prayer just as we do most other days of the year…That was good. Space. Silence. And companionship. So many people and situations we are carrying around with us. A blessing to speak them aloud and offer them to God.
I take Home Communion to a lovely man who is struggling with cancer, knowing this will be his last Christmas. Cancer claimed his wife just after I arrived here, so he is painfully aware of the course the illness can take, very frightened, but willing to talk. He was obviously feeling pretty lousy today, but it was good to stand with him in the shadows and speak about the Light that shines in darkness.
A couple of other brief visits, then home to draw breath before the Crib Service.
Despite 200 assorted children and their carers, many shepherds, angels and at least a couple of Kings, this was startlingly peaceful.. Baby C and her mother (tell it not in Gath…here in Ch K., the holy infant was a girl) sat there in wonderful tranquility while the heavenly hosts swarmed around them. When we had assembled both our crib and the rather raggedy tableau we dimmed the lights and sang the obligatory “Away in a Manger” by candles and Christmas tree alone. Then there really was a moment of stillness before we prayed,- the totally unexpected gift I had longed for.
Complete contrast was the carol singing at a local hotel. We stood in the hall beside their tree, and people drifted out of the bars, clad in their Christmas glitz in readiness for a formal dinner and, to begin with, watched us as if we were visitors from outer space. Then, gradually, one or two of the very elderly guests joined in (I speculated that they had been taken to stay at the hotel this Christmas by families anxious to divert their attention from the gap left in their homes by the death of a spouse) and the singing began to spread. Finally one very aloof, bored looking man, who had been determinedly looking at anything but our corner began to sing…along with his aged mother and a rather enchanting little girl of about 3. And it felt good, in a Disney kind of way!
Home. Yummy (and traditional) salmon for supper, then family music-making by candlelight before the (even more traditional) reading of certain Christmas stories, culminating, as always since the children were old enough to come to Midnight Mass, with The Good Little Christmas Tree. Up to church through the chilly darkness…Music blaring from the Working Men’s Club competing with the bells to ring the stars out of the sky. Church filling up…the buzz of voices mingling with the organ notes..the sudden realisation of the enormity of what was about to happen….I long to get away, to be quiet with God before the service starts, but the vestry is the usual hive of activity.
Has anyone seen the baby for the Crib?
What about the Advent wreath?
Did anyone light the extra candles which have been adopted as in memoriams by some of the congregation?
Where’s the “Send a goat” tin?- someone wants to add a last minute greeting on the collective card.
Go into yourself, Kathryn…It’s the only way.
But then the vestry prayer is said (oh…was that me?) and we begin the procession into the candlelit church, and we’re singing “Of the Father’s heart begotten” and suddenly it is all utterly and eternally real. That hymn does in music what John’s Prologue does in words…the rolling tune carrying us through the centuries and on into a future we won’t see. We are part of the celebration that spans history
“Sing ye heights of heaven his praises!
Angels and archangels sing.
Whereso’ere ye be, ye faithful,
Let your joyous anthems ring.
Every tongue his name confessing
Countless voices answering
Ever more and ever more”
We reach the Crib…the baby is placed gently inside and, as if it weren’t blessed enough by His presence, I bless it in His name.
From then on, everything is just as it should be. We sing “It came upon the Midnight clear” (and for a mad moment I wonder if the organist reads my blog…)…We come to the Eucharistic prayer and I’m singing the Preface when the words take my breath away once again
“In this mystery of the Word made flesh you have caused his light to shine in our hearts…In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see”
And then I have to do it. To take the wafer, which I’ve just consecrated, …and break it.
The first violence to be done to the Christ child is at my hands.
I pause for a second…Must I really, tonight of all nights? Can’t I just keep Him safe….
But that’s not the reality. It’s about the baby and about the cross. Even at Christmas.
And then the people begin to come forward, God’s broken body here in all our mess and muddle…and it’s given to me to take Him to them in a fragment of bread and a sip of wine.
Thanks be to God!