Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Christmas in Poetry: Candlelight Talk

AFC Carols by Candlelight 18th December 2016
I think Christmas is impossible to explain; at least in a detached, forensic way.

I remember having a go at that during my days in Theological College.  In fact my first essay was an attempt to explain The Virgin Birth.  Thirty years on I neither remember what I wrote nor the mark I received!

Since those days I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is best expressed in poetry rather than prose.  It’s the reason why there are seven carols at our Candlelight Service and just one sermon!

There really is no adequate explanation that could fully unpack the mind-blowing idea of the Incarnation.

Yet we sense the deep truth of it as we sing:
       Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
       hail the incarnate Deity,
       pleased as man with men to dwell,
       Jesus our Immanuel.

It seems to me that Christmas contains some very deep and lasting truths.

Only last week as I listened to Radio 4’s Today Programme us listeners were reminded that the summer sensation called Pok√©mon Go, all the rage six months ago, is already old hat!
We are often drawn to the new, yet at Christmas it is the old truths which hit the spot.

We read of Mary and Joseph struggling to come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy.  A young couple facing the sniggers of neighbours.  Yet they don’t give up on each other and teach us the truth that any loving partnership can grow through the lows as well as delight in the highs.

We read of shepherds and wise men kneeling at the manger.  Teaching us the truth that God’s presence among us is open to all, both the lowly born and the highly privileged.

We read of Mary whose real miracle wasn’t the Virgin Birth but the truth that a mother’s love stays true; for she is there by Jesus’ side not only at his cradle but also at his cross.

And, of course, we read that God comes to us not as an idea, not as a force but as a human being.  Teaching us the deep and enduring truth that God shares life with us – alongside us he shares his light, his light, his joy and his peace.

There is a lovely prayer on our notice sheet, it’s from John Bell of the Iona Community and called the Creeping of The Light:

Light looked down and saw darkness.  “I will go there,” said Light.
Peace looked down and saw war.  “I will go there,” said Peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred.  “I will go there,” said Love.
So he, the Lord of Light, the Prince of Peace, the King of Love,
came down and crept in beside us.

Christmas in Poetry, to me it’s the best way to express these deep and lasting truths.

Or as John Betjeman put it in what is probably the most famous Christmas poem after the Angel’s Gloria:

And is it true, and is it true:
No love that in a family dwells
No carolling in frosty air
Not all the steeple shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in bread and wine.

May God travel with us through these final days of Advent and when it comes, may we all know his blessing this coming Christmas

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