In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19)
It’s Christmas morning, still dark and I’m wide awake at 6.00 even though it was very late when I got to bed after last night’s Masses, not that the last Mass was so late but I was buzzing afterwards and it took me a while to come down to earth. Two very different and life-giving experiences.
The earlier than wished for wakefulness was like a prompting of the Holy Spirit and I decided to go out in search of the dawn, something I’m not given to doing very often. I thought the view from the West Hill would be best and it was beautiful but I was drawn to the shore at Rockanore where the tide was out very far and there was plenty of sand to walk on. Down there I realized that I was walking where I had not walked before and it seemed to me then that this Christmas is about walking in a new and previously undiscovered place.
And there I waited, and walked and waited more. Further along was a woman and her dog. There were broken clouds and, by 8.00 the sky had become light except for a small patch of intense red on the horizon. It was there that the sun broke through rather magnificently, an appropriate dawn for the day that is in it.
As I was walking back home through the fishermen’s huts the woman and her dog came along. “Did you see the sunrise?” she asked. “Yes”, I said “wasn’t it magnificent!” She said, “I stood there wondering would it ever come and it did! The waiting was worth it!”
Indeed! The waiting was rewarded and when it seemed that we would not see it, it was then that it emerged so beautiful, so strong. Like waiting for the Lord. When it seems like He will not come, it is then that He arrives.
The children’s Mass was packed to overflowing and the noise was so loud beforehand that I wondered how I’d be able to draw them in at all or calm them down but they have a capacity for silence when invited and led into it.
The Nativity was read and acted out from the Annunciation to the visit of the Magi and those who did not have specific roles were invited to come as angels and shepherds. The baby Jesus part was given to a recently born baby girl and her sister played the part of Mary, a perfect combination. The Christmas Night Mass was at 10.00 and was preceded by carol singing. This was a full and fervent liturgy that was imbued with great peace and beautiful singing. It is lovely too to see the young adults who have come home for Christmas.
The two Masses this morning were quieter and by the second one I was noticeably more tired. Our voices - Deacon Duncan’s and mine – sounding a little raw.
It’s a very happy time for children, their joy is infectious and it’s tempting to conclude that Christmas is really just about children but the themes of the first Christmas are quite serious and addressed to adults.
The conception and birth of Jesus speak to emptiness – the emptiness of the womb of Mary, the emptiness of the manger, both of which represent the emptiness that we experience in our own lives, emptiness that is now the object of the Good News. Do not be afraid! A Saviour has been born for you today. We are in need of saving on so many levels of life, though we often don’t want to admit it. There are those who come to this Christmas with new grief, relationships broken, personal issues ongoing and illness of body, mind and soul. In all of these we need our Saviour.
The birth of Jesus is addressed to and in the darkness. The shepherds of the night are forced to look upwards from the labour of keeping watch, drawn to the light of the angel. This is prayer - the raising up of the mind and heart to God. How necessary it is for us to be lifted up beyond the demands and limitations of our daily lives. The Light shines in the darkness and darkness cannot overpower it. Though there is widespread rejection of Jesus and countless Christians who have de-accepted Him, to all who do accept Him He gives power to become children of God. And that is what we are, that is who we are as we gather in church to worship Him. We have here among us an abundance of love and joy and peace and though I am exhausted at the end of all the liturgies, I am also full to overflowing.
After lunch it’s tempting to sag into my armchair but I get myself out the door and down to the sea again to walk among all the other happy lives that are there. And dogs – new ones who drag their owner along too quickly, old dogs dressed in Christmas jumpers, moving more slowly. And to witness the going down of the sun as I had seen it rise earlier. “From the rising of the sun to its setting, great is the name of the Lord.
Back home I pay a brief visit to the Snowflake night shelter in our hall to welcome and wish them a happy Christmas. The homeless again express their gratitude that I allow them to sleep here but it is the least we can do and I’m inspired by the Snowflake volunteers who give themselves with such energy, joy and love.
I go back upstairs looking for a movie about outer space and sit down to “Approaching the Unknown”, a title that appeals as do journeys into the beyond that seem to express something of what is happening in my soul. These are words I wrote about Voyager 1, the spacecraft that has been travelling for more than 41 years, a span that covers most of my religious life:
Above the moon and stars
Beyond the edge
Of what is known
The space between all things
The quiet dark
The womb of light
The womb of light
Where speed and stillness merge
And distance has no measure
A thousand years
A single day
Is all the same
And Hope and Faith remain
Pure and perfect
Pure and perfect