December in the Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2017

Advent 2017

Dear All,  

Saint Francis of Assisi started it: the Christmas crib, that is……Until he came along, Christmas (although a jolly good excuse for the odd feast or two) was not really anything out of the ordinary. It was Francis’ brainwave to have a figure of the baby Jesus wrapped up and put in a manger as a focus for devotion. Imagine the original impact and indeed shock value of an image of the Almighty and Most Holy God stuck in a wooden box where animals had been eating. For his contemporaries (although attuned to the presence of God permeating every level of their lives in a way our society has lost) this combination of holy statue and food crate would have seemed close to sacrilege. But for Francis, it was a way of showing the stark reality of the Incarnation - Jesus being born as a human being – the reality of his entering the everyday, the ordinary, the unappreciated.

Since Francis’ day, the crib has become more elaborate: in Austria and Germany where I once led a pilgrimage to the Oberammergau Passion Play, I remember stunningly intricate cribs, complete with such well-attested biblical characters as Bavarian farmers, Tyrolean midwives, German Shepherd Dogs and even elephants! Beautiful, intriguing but somehow missing the point.  Rather as an oyster smoothes over a piece of grit to create a pearl, so we have made our cribs –and Christmas itself – beautiful, appealing, and yet no longer challenging: we have made them ‘safe’.

Our Crib Service at Holy Cross, which is one of our big events of the year, is hugely exciting: and the crib itself with its wonderful colourful figures, is a beautiful and useful focus for devotion; but when we look at it, let us also remember the    reality it portrays; a refugee family, in poverty and increasing difficulties, about to flee for their lives. This is the reality of Syria, Burma and the Sudan.      Let’s all enjoy the brightness of Christmas, let’s eat, drink and party (I certainly will!); let us take delight in our Festival of Christmas Trees, the Carol Services and our wonderful Crib Service, yet let us also remember the meaning of it all, a meaning as relevant now as in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.                                           

Happy Christmas,  Love, Fr. John