View from the Vicarage
He became poor that we may be rich…
These are words of a gentle meditation from the Iona Community which we’ve used to begin our Christmas Midnight Mass. And once they’re sung - and we’ve followed them with “Once in royal David’s city” - we begin the liturgy itself:
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
brings earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.
They’re words of beauty which express the deepest truth. So much else about the traditional celebration of Christmas resonates in our hearts from lullabies like the “Rocking Carol” and “Away in a Manger” to the raucous cheerfulness of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.”
But there is the celebration of Advent beforehand - and it can introduce a note which jars or trips us up. I’m always challenged by the appearance of John the Baptist in his way of proclaiming Christ’s coming. The hymn “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” is not at all Christmassy - this year I’ve been pulled up short by this verse:
Stretch forth thine hand, to heal our sore,
And make us rise to fall no more;
Once more upon thy people shine,
And fill the world with love divine.
The “sore” is the frailty of our human condition. It obviously troubles some hymn book compilers who give a different rendering of this verse. It’s the wound which saps our energy and leaves us failing in our endeavours. It’s something more than “sin” - itself a misunderstood concept. “Our sore” needs to be acknowledged if it is to be healed: ”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” asks the Jesus Prayer. It’s knowing what we are that we can find the grace to become what we might be.
And Christmas shows us how that can be. The love of God, reaching down to us. God’s Son taking human flesh to touch and heal us. We need the opportunities to acknowledge what we are before God: what we lack; what we might be with his help. And he doesn’t leave us simply to struggle with that knowledge. In Jesus he meets us in our need.
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