Reflection for Christmas - 25th December 2020

Mother of God of Tenderness

In the Gospel of Luke chapter 2, after the naming of his son John, Zechariah prophecises:

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

His son is the one who will go before the Lord as the herald of the tender mercy of God, and the one who welcomes the dawn from on high. On the verge of Christmas we await once more the celebration of the coming of the light that will guide our feet into the way of peace.

As I look ahead through the season of Christmas, through to the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, I see a whole series of feasts that take us on a journey. Perhaps this journey through Christmastide is one way we can come to understand more deeply the way of peace to which we are called. Let us see what light is shed as we journey together.

At the start of Advent we stood with Anna in the temple, bringing all our brokenness and our longing before God, knowing that there is the hope of God’s coming to bring healing and salvation. Now we look to the fulfilment of that hope – what are we expecting? What form might God’s coming take?

There is a saying I’m sure you’ve all heard – “An expectation is a disappointment waiting to happen”. When I first heard it I thought that was rather bleak, surely it is our expectations that give us hope? But then as I pondered more I saw its wisdom. Letting go our expectations opens us to a spacious and open hope that allows God to be God. Our expectations can block us from seeing what is actually happening and how God is present here and now.

Who would have thought a baby in a stable? It has become such a familiar and romantic image for us, but really, how strange? In our day maybe we should picture this coming of God in a garage! An empty garage in an undesirable area on the edge of town, windows boarded up, the last place we would look. But at least it is dry… if not very clean amongst the oily rags and spanners. A cardboard box full of bubbly plastic wrapping provides a comfortable mattress for the little one. A light shines from this baby, the very presence of God, transfiguring what is mundane and ordinary. A light that will transform the world. But so easy just to walk on by, not noticing the light shining behind the boarded windows. Or indeed never to visit that part of town at all.

Is there a place in our own lives that is like that empty garage? A place we haven’t been to for a while, forgotten oddments lying around, things we’d prefer not see and certainly do not want others to see. Perhaps this is the place where we need to look for the coming of God. His gift to us is often to be found in the places we think least worthy.

I have been wondering about the last line of our Lauds hymn for Advent: “Let all men know, let all men fear Your perfect love, O Trinity.” What is so fearful about the Trinity’s perfect love? Maybe it is because it is a love that shines light into those dark, ignored places in our own lives and also the life of our society? It reveals those things we’d rather not see but yet does it in perfect love, saying “come to me, you are loved and forgiven”.

If we are to open to that love our lives must change, we must repent and turn around, again and again. It is a constant call to each one of us living within this broken world. All those edifices we build to make ourselves feel good are irrelevant, our pretences are stripped away – he chooses to come to the neglected, unattractive garage, not the royal palace. As we have been hearing in our refectory reading, God does not need our good deeds, but as we turn to him and allow him to come to birth within then we become a place from which shines forth a little bit more of God’s kingdom on earth. Our feet are set on the way of peace.

With empty hands and open hearts let us bring our selves to receive the gift of the Christ child come in simplicity and humility. Let go our expectations and be open to God’s surprising coming in the midst of our very ordinary lives.

Mother Anne - 25th December 2020