Christmas Letter 2017
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.
So wrote, Sir John Betjeman in his heart warming poem, “Christmas”. Not only might you be drawn to the sound of bells to announce the event, the heat from the stove around which to gather, the welcoming lamp in the window for weary travellers coming in out of the rain, and the colours of the stained-glass window. What a wonderful picture, painted so richly in less than forty words. That is what I love about poetry; the snapshot image described by the efficient use of language. Surely an example to all preachers, including myself!
Capturing the essence of all that appeals to the senses at Christmas-time, is one way to implant a lasting impression of this important celebration. The smells and tastes of the season will soon enter the kitchens of cooks baking cakes and puddings to be laid down for the weeks ahead. Already, the shops are gearing up for Christmas, and even before Hallowe’en is past, the shelves will shine and shimmer with glitter and tinsel, green, red and gold. Of course, the preparation for Christmas and eager anticipation help to intensify the pleasure of the big event, in the same way that expectant families await the birth of a child. The One upon whom we wait, is Jesus the Son of God and Saviour of the world who deserves every ounce of extravagance emotion and excitement.
Looking to the message of Christmas, offers a feast of images and stories, too many to mention all in one go, and so, the challenge, as for the poet in sifting words, is knowing what to use and which others to leave for another day. These are dark days, and for me, the image of Jesus as Light of the World, is perhaps one which rises to the fore. The nights are very dark, and the day length is short, so that light becomes important for us to do even the simplest things from dressing to our daily round of duty. Perhaps, therefore, Christmas lights in windows, adorning homes and trees, are such an evocative symbol, even for the least religious among us. Few can deny the practical importance of light, and this fact was not lost to Jesus, who was described by others as well as Himself as the Light of the World. And in His teaching, he would say to His Disciples to be like light and salt. Both essential in their own ways. Light to see by and salt to improve the taste of food and for its preservation. And so, whether you are celebrating in a romantic or a practical way, I wish you every blessing this Christmas-tide for the truth of Jesus to shine into and through your lives in every sense.
And is it true? And is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
No love that in a family dwells,
Nor carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple shaking bells
Can with this single truth compare-
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.