Christmas Services at the Memorial Church 2010

This Sunday the congregation contribute to and conduct our service of Christmas carols and readings. It's a delightful occasion and, for one Sunday in the year, I can just be a member of the congregation. Lovely. Anyway, in the absence of an address I post below my piece for the current church newsletter as it has a seasonal theme. But, before I do, just in case you are in Cambridge over Christmas here are the services this coming week:

Christmas Eve Communion Service - 6.30pm followed by mince-pies and mulled wine.

Christmas Day Morning Service - 10.30am followed by tea, coffee, sherry and mince-pies.

Boxing Day Sunday Morning Service - 10.30am also followed by tea, coffee, sherry and mince-pies.


Many years ago I came across a book of epigrams written by Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) called the Cherubinic Wanderer and in a moment I’ll leave you with what is still my favourite. He was one of those writers who is often described as a mystic and, perhaps he was, but I prefer to see him primarily as someone who understood that in life it is never sufficient only passively to consider theories and stories but to risk to enacting or inhabiting them. Christmas is one season with a theory and set of stories that are very easy just passively to observe; after all, they are so beautiful and familiar that the temptation is always just nostalgically to sit back on the sofa, whack on a CD of a superb college choir singing Christmas favourites with a fine port, some great stilton to hand and to wake up the next day largely unaffected - except perhaps for one’s waistline and the low thud of a fortified wine hangover (always, for me, the worst kind). But in our heart of hearts we know this misses the mark and is a betrayal of something vital.

The ‘theory’ proposed (though it is simply presented as being true) by the Christmas stories is, of course, the incarnation - that God became man. We are a church that was formed out of a ferment about what this scandalous claim might mean and historically we didn’t go the way most Christian churches eventually did. I'm not going to rehearse the history of this fraught debate here because all I want to do is remind us of the claim made by the season and to take it seriously in ways we can. The beautiful stories of the season? - well, Im sure you know them, just turn to the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew.

So now to Silesius’ epigram. He took the ‘theory’ and the stories of Christ’s birth seriously and distilled it brilliantly and pithily into four lines which he threw it back to the reader in a quite startling fashion. Here it is in Frederick Franck’s translation (The Book of Angelus Silesius’, Bear & Co., Santa Fe, 1985):

Christ could be born
a thousand times in Galilee
but all in vain
until he is born in me.

Franck places close to this text a few suggestive lines from the sixth and last Patriarch of Chán Buddhism Hui Neng (638-713): ‘In what I have shown you, there is nothing secret or hidden. If you reflect within yourself and recognise your own face which was before the world, the secret is within yourself.’

What you do with this tiny little stocking filler is not for me to say but all I can say is that larger, more flashy presents given to me at Christmas have long gone and been forgotten but this one I still have and it never fails to wake me from my port and stilton induced slumber to a startling recognition of the season’s radical message - Wake up to life!

Susanna and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and New Year