This weekend it is a Boxing (St. Stephen’s) Day greeting that comes alongside the weekly Newsletter, with the hope that you have had a blessed Christmas populated by the faces, voices, and even the presence of some of those closest to you. Above all, I trust that these very special days of the Octave of Christ’s nativity will give you the opportunity to pause and reflect on that first Christmas night and day, when the Word became flesh and began to live a life like our own – except for sin – with all its highs, lows, achievements, failures, moments of adulation and times of despair. Unsurprisingly you have been very much in my own thoughts and prayerful remembrances as I’ve celebrated Holy Mass this week, both in the closing days of Advent and now in Christmastime. Our unity as a community of faith is unwavering and I would like to think, a source of strength for us all to draw upon.
Last Sunday I took a giant leap for this specimen of mankind and ventured from sitting in the kitchen with Dad, on my weekly visit, to crossing the hallway into our living room. With childlike excitement and enthusiasm my appetite for a taste of festive magic was never going to be satisfied with a glimpse of our family Christmas tree from the outside of the living room window. Instead I wanted to sit near to it basking in the coloured lights reflecting from its array of baubles, revisiting Christmases past and looking forward with maturing expectation to Christmas 2020 and those in the future. And so I did ! Socially distanced from Dad, and wearing a facial covering (yes, I am as strict and necessarily observant in private as when in the public gaze !). As our family home occupies a corner position, our illuminated tree offers the first sign of Christmas to all who turn into the cul-de-sac, and full marks to Dad for his annual efforts to ensure it looks so well decorated. This includes a foray into the loft for various carefully labelled boxes, incredible patience with the strings of lights seeking the one rogue bulb that has caused the rest to go out on strike, and with great care hang each decoration, varying in both size and fragility. My own contribution is the tree itself, which I bought for my parents about thirty years ago, and carried home on a crowded bus from Leeds to Otley. Acknowledging the size of the box it was packed in I would not have blamed the driver for charging me extra for it, but, with seasonal goodwill, he didn’t.
Away from public gaze is our crib, possibly as old as myself, or even older. I could once date it to at least 1970 by the pieces of yellowing newspaper in which the figures were wrapped but even that hasn’t proved to be as enduring as the figures themselves. It stands above the television and quietly attracts its own audience of viewers. Last weekend, with the exception of the manger containing the baby and Magi, the figurines were all awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child, although the shepherds mysteriously numbered just two until I managed to locate the third still snuggled up in his protective wrapping paper, as I joking said to Dad, he must have been on the night shift of shepherding duties. Even the Angel had arrived, and taken up its rather aloof position on the exterior of the crib’s thatched roof. From being very young I was often allowed to help with the arrangement of the nativity figures, but the affixing of the Angel was another of Dad’s jobs, as the eye (a technical term learnt at a young age !) on its back had to be carefully affixed to a hook on the front of the stable. Too much wear and tear caused by youthful energetic frustration would have caused the hook to lose its tension and long ago the Angel would have found itself standing amid the hoi polloi with its message of “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” After decades of display the Angel remains hanging above the stable scene, not quite miraculously, but thanks to care, patience and a little bit of creative help from my Dad and his toolbox.
It was whilst looking at the Angel that I recalled the following words of blessing, which I felt would be more than appropriate to offer to you at this particular time. As God’s messengers and constantly in His presence they form another layer of His protective care for us. This Christmastime I prayerfully ask that the Angels continue to journey with us, enabling our prayers, hopes and aspirations to be given a hearing in God’s presence, and more profoundly that in return He will ask the Angels to keep us, and those we hold closest, safe, well and content as one year begins to fade and another dawns.
A Christmas Blessing.
May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
To come alive to the eternal within you,
Into sources of refreshment.
May the Angel of the Imagination enable you
At ease with your ambivalence
Through the glow of your contradictions.
May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
Where your life is domesticated and safe,
Where all that is awkward in you
To the beauty of your senses
As a temple of the Holy Spirit.
May the Angel of Justice disturb you
In worth and self-respect,
That presides in your soul.
May the Angel of Death arrive only
And you have brought every given gift
And joyful guardians.
(John O’Donohoe 1956 – 2008)
As ever, Fr. Nicholas