It’s getting closer to Christmas. Unusually, this fourth sunday in Advent falls exactly a week before the day itself. And it’s cold here in the East of England, with a biting wind driving down from the north. And once again, the news is as bleak as the weather. So, what treasure might we find buried in the cold hard ground of this time? Are there signs of a different way of being, of living, getting ready to uncurl and grow?
The word, the theme, for the week to come is Love. And we remember the old carol….
Love came down at Christmas
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,From Prayers and Verses
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
There is a mystery we can enter into as we draw close to the year’s midnight, in this darkness where something hopeful and joyous is emerging. And the sign of it is love. Simply love: the token and the gift and the sign. As we approach Christmas, we can reaffirm that gift of love. We can consider what it might mean this week, for us, to live from a place and awareness of love. If Love came down at Christmas, what would that look like for me, at this time? Can we accept the gift and sign of this love? Can we receive it and allow it to change us, so we too are part of the new growth of this silent, midwinter spring?
As ever, this Sunday has it’s readings. Here’s the one from Isaiah 7..
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
And where that word – Immanuel – is translated as God with us.
It’s a profound promise. That God is with us. Even when we are unsure what we mean by God, even when we lose sight of what might seem clear in clear daylight, maybe we can come to know that we are held and accompanied in love. This, to me, is increasingly the heart and core and hope I hold onto. That God is indeed with us. And it is good to become alive to this in the bleak midwinter – as Christina Rosetti also wrote.
Recently some friends and I were discussing “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as Paula D’Arcy put it. The many ways we can find this “God with us” in all kinds of places – unexpected, joyful and difficult places alike. What if we could shift our hurry to categorise things as good or bad, this or that, and let them be, and wonder what they might teach us? Of course, we need to challenge injustice, work to make things better, but all of that begins with a clear-sighted seeing how things actually are – just the things themselves, viewed with compassionate curiosity. The gospels are full of hardship and difficulty, and love, companionship and healing. I am increasingly valuing the questions and uncertainties in the story – where things that seem bad, are turned to the good, and that which seems good, turns out to be less so. We can see instead how these things might work towards love, friendship, wholeness.
Some years ago I attempted a paraphrase of the beginning of John’s gospel. I thought I’d share it with you today.
It started with the Word, who was there before the dawn of time –
before the earth, the waters, the stars – there with God, was God.
For in the beginning, there was simply nothing else.
But then, the Word began to work. When the Word spoke,
the universe spun into song, and all things came into being.
Without the Word there was only empty blankness.
For the Word, the universe burst into life like a desert after rain.
This was the Word’s work – unleashing life and light –
glorious and radiant, warming our lives like the sun in spring.
This is the light which shines through our darkness – cold, smothering darkness
where nothing can grow. And the darkness draws back at its touch,
not understanding a light that cannot be put out.
Then, the Word, source of life and light, came into the world he made,
but the world hid its face in its hands. It did not recognise him.
He reached out to his people, and they turned away.
Yet to all who welcome him, believed in him, he held out his hands
to give them such a gift – to know that they are a child of God,
Born of God.
So the Word, the One who was there from the beginning
became flesh and blood and chose to make a home
with us in this fragile, changing world.
He came with open hands to bless, brimming over
with words of truth. He has unlocked Heaven’s storerooms
and poured down gift after gift for us.
We saw his glory with our own eyes – we saw him shining
with life and light, we saw the very One who came to us
from the Father.
For no one has ever seen God. But this Jesus,
the One and Only, who was there at the beginning,
has made God known.
Thank you for joining me in these readings and ponderings.
May you have a blessed, peaceful and loving time as we draw close to Christmas.