I love the first of everything - experiencing what I haven't experienced before. So, this is my first ever Christmas in England, in Hastings and I woke early this morning with a sense of anticipation. This will be a new experience of Jesus, blessed community and holy solitude. People have been so kind and generous and it softens any sense of loss I may have. Happy Christmas Eve from my kitchen table in High Street where the seagulls are asking the dawn to break - a sound I love so well and never tire of hearing.
On Christmas morning a chink of red light breaks briefly upon the clouded horizon, a warning perhaps to shepherds of the morning. The sea is in mighty form, thunderous and dashing its churned up brownness on the pebbled shore. An islander once said to me that the sea is never brown. It is! Here! Today! With froth on it that flies about, brushing my lips. Salty froth fogging my glasses!
Seagulls play with the wind that tosses them like rag dolls through the air. I walk among the fishermen’s huts, the beached trawlers, and the fishermen's nets spread out upon the ground, all emptied of their catch. I am fisherman and shepherd for Christ born this happy morning. I’m singing Adeste Fideles as I go. “Yeah Lord we greet thee!” We greet Him, the dog-walking strangers and I. We greet Him in each other.
There are other seagulls that strut around the empty streets chasing the discarded litter of last night. Scavenging the ripped open garbage sacks, scattered chips, empty coffee cups rolling in their weightlessness.
Last night we had a beautiful Christmas Mass and carol service. Midnight Mass at 10! This was the tranquil adult event – proud parents with returned sons and daughters. Loved ones leaning into each other in the warmth that is offered in the birth of Jesus, delightful homecomings! Few things surpass the beauty of God’s people in a church on Christmas night. Every one of us there knows that we are blessed by being there.
It is a kind of Transfiguration. Lord, it is good for us to be here!
I find myself abiding in gratitude for all that is. I’m not looking for anything for myself in prayer and I feel a completeness that is immensely satisfying.
I find myself abiding in the present – neither looking back nor forward nor away. Simply here right now, holding in my heart all who belong to me! And in this present I am grateful for the church building in which I stand and the community that fills it. The beauty of it and the goodness of those who prepared it for this night! Beautiful as a bride prepared – the cleaning, polishing, the beautiful flowers and tree, the lovely crib. All done so quietly and humbly, with no demand for praise or recompense! All I do is turn up! There is so much hidden service done here on a daily basis.
And there is the music, the exquisite singing which has been born of much labour, a labour that I have witnessed with my own eyes and felt with my heart.
All these aspects are in their way a new birth – Jesus being born for us again in them; we being born anew in Him.
Earlier we had an altogether different Christmas Mass that was no less transforming and, while the later one was uplifting in a tranquil way, the early one was shot through with joy, the joy that is to be experienced most especially in children.
And there were lots of them. The church overflowed with the young families who are so central to the life of this community. I sometimes refer to these Masses as a holy chaos but there was in fact no chaos at all – just a tumult of life. And for all the tumult we also have the capacity as a community – both young and old – to enter together into moments of profound silence. The children do my heart so much good – the delight and the joy they bring!
It was thought that people might not turn up to the morning Masses either on Christmas eve or Christmas day but they did and I have to say well done to the parents who managed to get their children out to two Masses in one day! Quite an achievement! It was an odd weekend in that the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve came at either end of the one day!
One last lovely and unknown event was the dinner prepared by a group of mothers and some fathers down in the parish hall beneath the church. It was for a group of young adults who are in transition and have no place of their own on this day. I went down to say hi and chat briefly. The young people were so grateful to me for letting them have the hall. It’s not I who deserve the thanks and I’m truly happy for the brief pleasure it gives them.
When it’s all been said and done I take my leave of everyone. People are concerned about me being alone but I am not. There are lots and lots of people who live alone today. I am in union with them and with the homeless men I meet on the street.
After lunch I turn again to the sea that is even wilder than it was this morning. The wind helps spend my energy, breaking open the tiredness that has gripped me, leaving me lazy and utterly content.
Back in the church I sit in the quite before of the crib, bathed in its kind light and, having indulged a bit more in the sweetness of Christmas food, by 9pm I’m ready to climb into bed. Check the doors; switch off the lights, sweet dreams!
Postscript on St. Stephen’s Day – Boxing Day here but will always belong to Stephen for me! I was about to be sociable and go visiting when the doorbell rang. A young man, who is new to town and has become homeless, wants to stay in the Snowflake night shelter which is in our church hall every Tuesday night. It doesn’t open for another couple of hours so I brought him in out of the wretched cold and gave him tea and biscuits, plus a book and a clock that he asked to borrow. After a chat I left him to his privacy in a small room downstairs. He has in him a nature that gladdens the heart and leaves me knowing that I have had a surprise encounter with the Divine!
Eamonn Monson sac
Eamonn Monson sac