The manger is empty, the four advent candles are lit, just one remains, to be lit 12 hours after I write this.
We have lit the candles for love, joy, peace and hope, all that remains is the one which celebrates the birth of a child who changed the world. Who changed my world when I chose to respond to his call to follow him.
I am waiting expectantly for tomorrow with the last line of In the bleak midwinter running through my head, my gift for Jesus is my heart.
As we approach Christmas I enjoy revisiting different parts of the story and am grateful for those who craft reflections which help me explore a familiar story afresh.
This is a poem called Keeping Watch in the Night by Joyce Rupp whose writing enriches me all year. I am drawn to the concept of the deep Inner Longing, such an evocative phrase which drew me to Jesus.
shepherds keeping watch in the night, close to the grassy slopes, at home in the darkness, a listening presence in the midnight emptiness shepherds keeping watch in the night, terrified by a voice not heard before, not supposed to be there shepherds keeping watch in the night, alarmed by powerful light, up-ending their security but they did not run away they stayed in the dark and listened, stretched their ears to the unknown voice and the voice said; ‘do not be afraid. stay in this dark place and listen. I have wonderful news: the Hoped-for-One, the Birthing you’ve longed for in the depths of your soul, has come, oh yes, has come!’ The watchers of the night, the keepers of the Inner Longing, enchanted by music of the skies hurried on midnight feet and found the One who waited unlike what they’d expected and surprisingly beautiful, all those night watches, and the deep Inner Longing, now they knew now they knew
Punctuation as in the original. Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1999, 53-4.
Today is Christmas Day when you get to light the final candle in the Advent wreath. This picture is from Christmas Eve when I presided for only the second time since Lockdown started. It feels very strange not having a Christmas Day service this year but this year is not a normal year.
Advent is partly about watching and waiting for the birth of Jesus. I feel like life is a constant round of watching and waiting at the moment and has been for months. Waiting for a vaccine, waiting to see people face to face, waiting to do something simple like hangout in a coffee shop reading or catching up with friends or going into someone else’s home. So many of the little every day blessings that bring meaning to life.
The final candle signifies that the light of Christ has come into the world. The light of Christ came into my life many years ago and that experience has shaped my life ever since and is the source of my hope at this challenging time.
Wishing you hope, peace and joy today and in the year ahead.
Over the years I have shared quite a few pieces from Joyce Rupp and do so again today. I like the way she grounds what she writes in reality.
I would like to think I will not feel disgruntled or irritable but that would demonstrate a lack of awareness over a few days where I have to juggle different priorities and commitments. Thus this is what I am praying for me and others today – some may like to
Blessing for Christmas (Joyce Rupp)
Let the Star of Hope blaze through discouragement, doubt, and disgruntledness. Let the Star of Kindness radiate through what you think, feel, and do today. Let the Star of Remembrance glitter in thoughts of good people and good deeds. Let the Star of Laughter sparkle in your eyes and in your smile. Let the Star of Joy dance in the corners of your heart that have forgotten to sing. Let the Star of Patience permeate that which you find difficult and irritable. Let the Star of Love encompass your heart, a ray of welcome for everyone you meet.
Wow, what on earth is going on!? Here in the UK, the guidelines for Christmas have just drastically changed. Coming together for less people over less time!
So, how are you feeling about this, bewildered, frustrated, angry? Many of us may not be able to get away and see anyone. Most of us are having to make last minute changes. I am feeling all at sea.
I heard another metaphor used today, marooned. Castaway, like Tom Hanks, stranded, not by choice on a desert island. Disoriented, frightened, lonely, hungry, unsafe. Perhaps what is most frightening is not knowing if one would ever be rescued. I think this metaphor might succinctly capture how many of us, personally, or speculating about others, might be feeling before and or after the latest restrictions, stuck where we don’t want to be.
Feeling stranded, disempowered has sadly become a normative covid-19 feeling. As our Paediatric Chaplaincy Network met this week, we shared such feelings. Instead of us feeling discouraged, we found some comfort in such feelings being normalised, its not just me, I am not alone, I am not odd, others have gone before me and survived!
As we return to the familiarity of the first Nativity, we are encouraged to find fresh resonance of our current situation. The forced simplicity and restrictions. Not what we have planned or would desire for ourselves or loved ones. Unusual presents delivered in unusual ways. The last minute changes, uncertainty of where we will be staying or be safe. Covid-19 encourages us to desanitise the first Christmas, it must have felt frightening in all the uncertainty.
Sustaining hope is often produced in such empathetic solidarity. We are a part of the ongoing Christmas story. There will be suffering but we have many resources to endure, if not thrive. Our faith was born in vulnerability, our faith story today imitates our Christ birth story of uncertainty and insecurity. This part of the story does evolve into an another chapter of life in all it’s fulness, in due course.
I loved this image I saw yesterday. It was taken in the formal grounds at Shugborough National Trust. They have “planted” bulbs for Christmas.
It reminded and inspired me for the need we all have to reimagine Christmas this year. I am not ignoring or minimalising our frustrations, regular readers, know my theology and practice is not to do that. But once we have done that, for us to contribute to Christmas not being cancelled, we need to channel our energies into new ways to celebrate. This might be remotely, it might be deferred. But reframing is necessary for our wellbeing, not to play victim, despite any sense of injustice or lack of logic; if I don’t go near anyone in Cornwall, like I always act in Birmingham, how is it less safe? Go for a non supervised socially distanced walk in the park, but not a self supervised sit socially distanced in their back garden (sorry to, you know who you are). Go for a socially distanced walk with family who are in another tier 3 area.
I can sit and complain or I can find new, fresh ways to celebrate Christmas. Bless friends by sending gifts, messages, digitally connecting. If I can’t garden, let’s nest! Bring on that comfort food! Write and declutter a bit more, continue to digitally up-skill. Enjoy more time and space to be slower. Deferred hope can be making provisional plans for next year.
How much fun have our team had designing digital Christmas resources. It has lifted my spirits, as I have seen and shared in their surprised joy. I will share some of these next week, look out for Vinnie the virus and the grumpy shepherds!
We empathise and not minimise with each other. But we remind ourselves that we are resourced people of God, with a creative Spirit to inspire and encourage us not to cancel but reimagine a more simple Christmas, with inconvenient government directed travel, in an unusual environment, gifts and visitors, emm, what does that remind me off! That Christmas seemed to work out ok.
Deep peace and hope during these challenging times, stay and feel safe.
This year more than most I long to see the light of Christ manifest in our world. It has been a hard year in many ways but today I am remembering the vulnerability of God who chose to become human, being born as a baby, a risky endeavour. In the remembering there is hope and an awareness that God has been Emmanuel to me this year, I cannot imagine what it would have been like if that were not so. Christmas blessings to all
One of the activities Paul’s team has been doing at the hospital is personalizing wooden tree decorations that are displayed at a local church Christmas tree festival. One of the things I noticed about the way that Ruth decorated the tree was that real feelings about Christmas were easy to see, not just the positive ones saying things such as the best time of the year. I am mindful that many people find Christmas difficult but cannot always find places where it is safe to express that in a way that is helpful. At Christmas we celebrate a God who became fully human, experienced the sort of range of emotions that we do and who came to be Emmanuel, God with us and is with us through the sort of feelings expressed in this picture even when we don’t feel it.
At the end of our writing week we treated ourselves to afternoon tea in a local hotel. Sitting looking out at the window and what looked to me like a fairytale picture left me reminiscing of the fun I had playing in my wendy house when I was a little girl. But this was much more exciting! But there was a reality when we got up close that we couldn’t see through the window – it was an abandoned wedding scene blown over chairs, table cloths on the ground and everything still at risk of more damage from the wind and the rain. We need to try to look beyond the superficial sometimes.
I am mindful at this time of year that there can be a bit of pressure for a fairytale Christmas that we need to do our best to resist. I have had several conversations with people about the challenges that Christmas brings and I am leading another blue Christmas service on 19th December for those who want a space where they can acknowledge the bits of the season that are hard. But I am reminded too that the Christmas story is not a fairy tale, it is about Jesus, God who came to dwell among us and who has changed my life forever.
For the first time in around forty years I have not had. Christmas card from Carol. She is one of a small number of friends who I don’t connect with on social media or have an email address for. Each Christmas and birthday we handwrite our news. I am now wondering what has happened. Is it a post office blip? I am beginning to get to the age where friends are dying (still comparatively young) but when, like Carol, they are not part of any other network or friendship group I am not sure what to do. I will see what happens in February… Although we have not met for nearly all those years Carol was part of an important time in my life and I remember her kindness and encouragement with gratitude.