You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Scripture: Luke 2: 15-20
Music: Joy to the World; See Amid the Winter’s Snow; Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (all recordings from St. Paul’s 2019)
Christmas Poem (Mary Oliver)
Says a country legend told every year: Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see what the creatures do as that long night tips over. Down on their knees they will go, the fire of an old memory whistling through their minds!
[So] I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold I creaked back the barn door and peered in. From town the church bells spilled their midnight music, and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone. Oh the heretics! Not to remember Bethlehem, or the star as bright as a sun, or the child born on a bed of straw! To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on – citizens of the pure, the physical world, they loomed in the dark: powerful of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history. Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas! And you are no heretics, but a miracle, immaculate still as when you thundered forth on the morning of creation! As for Bethlehem, that blazing star still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story, I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me the best it could all night.
The quiet grandeur of a silent and holy night is a moment, and an eternity. For a while now, Mary Oliver has been one of my favourite poets. Many of her reflections focus on the natural world, not only for the beauty and splendour it offers us, but for what it says in and of itself, the testimony creation offers to a wonder far beyond our capacity to create or to comprehend.
Her Christmas Poem does the same, but also points toward a very human theme. Oliver almost chides the animals for not knowing the difference between Christmas Day and any other day. “To know only of the dissolving Now!” she writes, as though they are trapped in their present. But then she recalls that the animals have been here since the first morning of creation – each one a miracle of life. And, she admits, it is she for whom the star of Bethlehem continues to search; she who has still to learn what Christmas is about.
About a month ago, the children and I were looking at the stars with our telescope as our outdoor fire burned out. It was an unusually warm evening offering a wonderfully clear sky. We had Mars much closer to us than usual, the planet clearly red even to the naked eye, and easy to find with our lens. We had also Venus and Mercury and, as the dark deepened, constellations and even a peripheral view of the Milky Way.
I was excited to share what I knew (and to fudge what I have forgotten) about the night sky. We talked and talked, finding and then losing stars, with occasional moments of quiet amazement. Eventually, I said it was time for bed, as much for me as for the kids. They said they wanted to do this again, soon, and my mind flashed ahead to the calendar, to work commitments, to deadlines; quickly whisked away from the moment.
And then, as we were heading in, my son said, “I love looking at the stars with you.” I was returned immediately to the dissolving Now, to the experience, the moment, whose glimmer still shone a moment longer; a moment that was both humble, and everything to which I aspire, and one that may well be, for all of us, one we will always remember. The quiet grandeur of a silent and holy night – a moment, and a lifetime.
I am constantly amazed by the abundance of creation; all of this – sun, moon, stars, field, forest, sand, snow, animals, vegetables, chocolate, coffee – all of this is the stuff of dreams. And yet, here it is, in our yards and in our cupboards, above us, below us, all around us. And how often do I take note of it – of its abundance, its richness? Perhaps more often now – now that I have children to raise and to teach, to share in love.
Yet, like Mary Oliver, it’s at this time of year when I am in awe of the abundant birth and rebirth of God’s greatest gift, which is love. We celebrate it on Christmas Day, but it also fills our every day. As followers in the way of Jesus, we call this abundance God – not only because it infuses everything and everyone and is, therefore both infinite and eternal – but because it awakens us to the dissolving Now, the experience of life and love present in every moment.
As he grew, and fed and healed, Jesus spoke of nothing more often than he did of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God. And if there is nothing else we hear from the Gospels, then let it be this: the kingdom of God is wherever or whenever people share love. In a manger, as both animals and people provide warmth for a child; by the sea, as friends share what they have with strangers; in the city square, as strangers seek dignity and healing for those they do not know; on earth, as people we do not know seek peace through justice for themselves and for all.
The kingdom is the dissolving Now – each and every moment which brings us closer to who and what we were created to be: children of God, born again this day, alive to the abundance of creation and the abundance of love. In her poem BC:AD, Ursula Fanthorpe, describes this moment in terms of our most familiar Christmas story, the Nativity of Jesus:
This was the moment when Before Turned into After, and the future’s Uninvented timekeepers presented arms. This was the moment when nothing Happened. Only dull peace Sprawled boringly over the earth. This was the moment when even energetic Romans Could find nothing better to do Than counting heads in remote provinces. And this was the moment When a few farm workers and three Members of an obscure Persian sect Walked haphazard by starlight straight Into the kingdom of heaven.
May you be blessed this Christmastime. May the abundance of life fill your senses. May your heart know friendship and love. May the Christ child be born again this day, this moment, for you. Amen.
Community at Prayer
O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your revealed, compassionate care: come and show your people the way to salvation.
O Holy God of ancient days and today, revealed to Moses at Sinai and to all people: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free. God of Mercy, open our hearts and hands.
O Root of Jesse, you are raised up as a sign for all peoples; leaders can only stand silent in your presence; we lift our hearts in thanksgiving.
God of Hope, bring peace to your world and people.
O Key of David, source of life and life eternal: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
God of Healing, help us to see our neighbour’s need, and to reach out in love.
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: arise, shine on those who dwell in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
God of Love, shape us according to your life-giving vision.
O God of all, joy of every human heart; keystone of the mighty arch of humanity: come and unite your people whom you fashioned in all the earth.
God of Joy, unite us in heart and purpose by your love.
O Emmanuel, revealed hope and source of trust: come and set us free for your work and witness. Show us how to live your redeeming love.
God of all times and places, breathe life into your people and world.