A friend of mine writes of his Christmas experience in a European village:
“The first thing that struck me when we arrived at the church was the sight of hundreds of candles in the cemetery, it seemed like every grave had one. The families were there too, remembering their loved ones. Then the bells started ringing, the signal that the service was about to begin.
The minister, the female minister, greeted every single person at the door. There were candles everywhere, and near the altar, a magnificent Christmas tree with real candles, quite a sight to behold. When the bells stopped ringing, the minister sat with the congregation and the organist started playing. This was followed by ‘Away in a manger’. The mood was very contemplative, the atmosphere very intimate, it was like being on a retreat.
There were three guests who sat at the altar, a midwife, a mother and an animal keeper, and all 3 talked about birth, about nurturing new life. The minister also spoke and linked what they said to Christ’s birth. She concluded by telling the congregation that they should be filled with hope, that they should nourish their dreams, their ideas, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks to make them come true. This was followed by one of the most beautiful versions of ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ (Silent Night, Holy Night) I’d ever heard. Then we all said The Lord’s Prayer. It was such a simple, moving meditation, I think you would have been touched by the sincerity. I know my mum would have loved the beautiful voices of the choir.”
“A guru asked his disciples how they could tell when the night had ended and day begun. One said, ‘When you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a cow or a horse.’ ‘No’, said the guru. ‘When you look at a tree in the distance and can tell if it is a neem tree or a mango tree.’ ‘Wrong again’, said the guru. ‘Well, then, what is it?’ asked the disciples.
‘When you look into the face of any man and recognise your brother in him: when you look into the face of any woman and recognise in her your sister. If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is by the sun it is still night.” (Prayer of the Frog, Anthony de Mello, p227).
At Christmas, we celebrate Emmanuel, God-with-us. How can we recognise God with us if ‘it is still night’? As I look around today, I see those whose lives are lived in the light – who recognise each person as their sister or brother. I also see those whose lives are more in shadow. Christmas reminds us that all is not as it should be. However, Christmas also reminds us where we are headed and God’s grace will guide us.
Young people sense this bright vision of God-with-us, where each person is our sister or brother. It is what motivates them in all of their efforts towards social justice. Our role is to ensure they clearly see the origin of that vision – the source of all good, God.
Wishing you a great week and a great holiday. May you be showered with peace and love at Christmas and may that bright vision be your guide throughout 2015
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3)
Advent could be likened to a time of spiritual ‘spring cleaning’. Like our homes, where it is easy to leave things lying around, similarly, it can be easy to get stuck in bad habits and obsessions. We can feel ‘in the dark’. To fully embrace the joy of God with us at Christmas, we need to be truly open to the people in our lives. We need to ‘take stock’ of ourselves and work on those parts of ourselves that hold us back from the full life to which the Christian is called.
It is easy to make the mistake that Christmas is about what you get. In fact the happiness of Christmas lies in what you give. Our young people know about the preparations for Christmas – trees, decorations, cooking. Advent allows us to prepare for God with us. By the inner work of reflection and prayer, we can encourage young people to be most ready to be in relationship with others. Their happiness lies in what they give – primarily of themselves. ‘For it is in giving that we receive…’
Have a great week!
“You must be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven”
This is never more true at Christmas. Children ‘get’ Christmas in ways from which some of us could learn. They are open to the joy, open to the wonder, open to all around them. Such openness brings closer God’s reign. They are a reflection of God-with-us. Surely that is what Christmas is about!
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
This Christmas story is very low key. The Saviour is born, but in very humble circumstances. The adult Jesus champions the poor and outcast and is himself born on the outer. For us, Christmas is about family. Yet, this Christmas, how will we follow Jesus’ example and go out to those in need around us? Jesus is born in a feeding trough. This Christmas, how will we follow Jesus’ example and feed others?
Young people can mistake Christmas as a time of ‘getting’ or ‘having’. We need to help them turn toward others, rather than focus on themselves. What can they give – especially to those in need? Who can they feed – physically or metaphorically?
Have a great week!