Not every prisoner can be as ready to accept the sacrifice of confinement as Bonhoeffer was. Let us us remember them all at Christmas time in this prayer shared with us by a prison chaplain.
We pray for every imprisoned person
who misses their family,
who cannot hold their children
or visit their parents,
who this Christmas will be surrounded not by loved ones
but by inmates who have no way out.
These are people
whose special holiday dinner
is served on cafeteria trays,
by people who are paid to be there.
We give thanks
that the gift of the Christ-child on Christmas morning
is not controlled by human hands,
not stopped by locks or bars
but poured out by your special grace.
There are some Christian movements that shun the giving of Christmas presents. One such is Christian Science, whose founder Mary Baker Eddy told in a paper ‘The Theology of Christmas Presents’ how, instead of giving them gifts, she sat still and thought about ‘Truth and Purity’ for her friends till they were much better for it. This was derided by G.K. Chesterton who declared Eddy’s stance to be ‘un-Christian’ and who points out that ‘Christ Himself was a Christmas present’. He writes as well that, ‘A gift of God that can be seen and touched is the whole point of the epigram of the creed.’
Admittedly, the consumer spending spree that begins ever earlier in the year can get a bit out of hand, and even lead to some people ending up in debt. But how lovely it can be to both receive and to give presents, especially ones into which a lot of thought and love has gone. And the gifts don’t have to be expensive. We do ‘Secret Santas’ at the Irish Chaplaincy (a fine tradition; and one enjoyed as well, by all accounts, in 10, Downing Street!). There is a £5 guideline and people interpret that in a variety of ways. I hit the jackpot this year. I received a large white furry Christmas stocking emblazoned with the letter ‘E’ and containing a string of flashing lights (which I love) and a glass container with a Christmas scene inside that snows when you shake it (which I also love) and lights up when you press a button on the bottom! And can be hung on the tree! The Secret Santa in question had, in addition, bought a large box of chocolates for all the team and a signed photo of Jamie Carragher for Declan’s son who is a Liverpool fan. I was so touched by that.
My furry stocking has duly been hung up next to the fireplace and I wait in anticipation of it being filled with little treats when I come downstairs on the morning of December 25th. I’m aware that I might find it empty but that’s the thing about present giving, and, I suppose, life in general: sometimes you’re in luck, sometimes you’re not! But in luck or out of luck, we may never know, through our own giving, how we may have touched another person.
Chesterton argues in his riposte to Mary Baker Eddy that if the three kings had simply brought ‘Truth and Purity and Love’ to that stable in Bethlehem then there ‘would have been no Christian art and no Christian civilization.’ Rather they brought actual, physical gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. OK, they may not have been the most practical things to give to the mother of a new-born, but how many of us want practical gifts at Christmas? Don’t we want instead something to make us smile, to feel special; to feel known and valued and loved: in short, thoughtful gifts, which is precisely what the gifts of the kings were.
In the words of Handel’s Messiah, ‘For unto us a child is born’, and that, surely, remains the greatest Christmas gift of all.
Jesus came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love. And to discover something important. As he did in Bethlehem, so too with us, God loves to work wonders through our poverty.
God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for him.
Was the Lord right in giving us so much? Is he right still to trust us? Does he not overestimate us? Of course, he overestimates us, and he does this because he is madly in love with us. He cannot help but love us.
Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be. In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Saviour, teach me to serve. You who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.
Gift better than himself God doth not know; Gift better than his God no man can see. This gift doth here the giver given bestow; Gift to this gift let each receiver be. God is my gift, himself he freely gave me; God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.
Man altered was by sin from man to beast; Beast's food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh. Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh. O happy field wherein that fodder grew, Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.
Words to be read slowly and digested.
Southwell is harking back to the Fathers of the Church in his imagery. May you have a happy and peaceful Christmas!
Behold the father is his daughter's son, The bird that built the nest is hatched therein, The old of years an hour hath not outrun, Eternal life to live doth now begin, The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep, Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.
O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Doesn't Southwell love a paradox! Yet the greatest of the paradoxes is that Jesus did come into this world at all. Eternal life to live did then begin: in a certain place, Bethlehem, at a certain time, 'in the days of Herod the king' (Matthew 2:1). We also have been given a time for the end of his earthly life 'under Pontius Pilate'. But that was not the end ...
Robert Southwell had cause to know darkness and despair as a Jesuit Missionary to England; he was captured and martyred under Elizabeth Tudor in 1595, aged about 34. Eternal life for him did then begin.
Let us pray for all persecuted or neglected this Christmas, that they may be embraced by joy.
Illustration from a mid-19th Century Methodist Sunday School book.
Life goes on, despite Covid19: Reverend Jo has put her infection behind her, but the virus is still with us, as her message for the last week in Advent makes plain. The Nine Lessons and Carols was ‘just lovely’, as Jo says.
Good morning to you all and I hope this finds you all well, as we are here at the Rectory. With all the uncertainty around at the moment, it was just lovely to be able to have our Benefice Nine Lessons and Carols in St Dunstan’s yesterday evening. It really was a ‘light shining in the darkness’ moment and I think very much appreciated by all who came – we had over 60 which was just lovely; especially with the candle chandeliers lit, the choir and handbells it was so uplifting!
If you did miss it and want to catch up, it can be accessed via our website: https://www.dunstanmildredpeter.org.uk/livestreaming.htm and click on Nine Lessons and Carols. Sometimes with the gloom and doom that seems so prevalent at times one needs something like that to lift the spirits and hear the Christmas Story afresh. Thank you to all who made it such a lovely service.
A reminder that after service refreshments, Saturday morning coffee at St Dunstan’s and St Dunstan’s Lunch Club are cancelled, and hopefully for the very short term, as we ride this current covid ‘storm’.
At the moment, all our services are as planned for this week: Christmas Eve Friday 24 December:4.00 Crib Service at St Dunstan’s 6.30 Christmas Eve Eucharist at St Peter’s11.30 Midnight Mass at both St Mildred’s & St Dunstan’s Christmas Day:8.00 Said Eucharist at St Dunstan’s10.00 Sung Eucharist at St Dunstan’s Sunday 26th December: Feast of St Stephen: 9.30 Joint Benefice Sung Eucharist at St Peter’s. Thanks to Rev’d David Stroud who will be leading this service Sunday 2nd January (1st Sunday of the month)8.00 Said Eucharist at St Dunstan’s10.00 Sung Eucharist at St Dunstan’s4.00 Epiphany Carol Service at St Mildred’sPlease note Messy Church is cancelled on that day
Advent reflections continue this week – they have been a real ‘thought for the day’ to listen to and reflect on, and thank you to all those who have taken part. We will do the same again during Lent – and that’s longer! I will write again on Friday, unless we have any further updates. In the meantime, those of you who are getting away to see family and friends. wishing you a safe journey and a blessed Christmas.
God Bless and have a good day Jo Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury.
Rorate Cœli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum. Aperiatur Terra, et germinet Salvatorem.
Mystic dew from Heaven Unto earth is given: Break, O earth, a Saviour yield — Fairest flower of the field”.
Translation from Catholic Encyclopedia
No sudden thing of glory and fear Was the Lord’s coming; but the dear Slow Nature’s days followed each other To form the Saviour from his Mother —One of the children of the year.
The earth, the rain, received the trust, —The sun and dews, to frame the Just. He drew his daily life from these, According to his own decrees Who makes man from the fertile dust.
Sweet summer and the winter wild, These brought him forth, the Undefiled. The happy Springs renewed again His daily bread, the growing grain, The food and raiment of the Child.
Alice Meynell, a mother herself, was adamant that Jesus was a real human child. She was right, of course. ‘One of the children of the year’: my mind goes back a few hours to when we picked Abel up from his primary school to take him home. There he was, our eyes on him, but also aware of the rest of his class, the children of year 2 by English school reckoning. He can expect to spend the next nine or so years in the company of many of them.
I can imagine the children of Cairo and later Nazareth, playing with their companion, Jesus, learning to read together, taking him for granted.
Where did he get this wisdom?
From the sun and dews, and the fertile dust: from the Creation feeding and strengthening him, just as it should, just as he willed it to be.
Let us reread this poem slowly, and resolve not to take Jesus for granted, nor indeed our own existence, dependent as we are on ‘the earth, the rain, the sun and dews’. Laudato si.
Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy.
A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face. Noble disappointment, noble self-denial are not to be admired, not even to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness. It is one thing to enter the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay without.
And the kingdom of heaven is of the childlike, of those who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure. Mighty men of their hands, the smiters and the builders and the judges, have lived long and done sternly and yet preserved this lovely character; and among our carpet interests and twopenny concerns, the shame were indelible if we should lose it.
Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties. And it is the trouble with moral men that they have neither one nor other. It was the moral man, the Pharisee, whom Christ could not away with. If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. I do not say “give them up,” for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.
Whatever happens this Christmas, let us not be dreary or bitter, but come in and join the children and the childlike. Be loving and give pleasure! It is well to be condemned to the fashion of the smiling face: it might just stick!
Robert Louis Stevenson,1888, A Christmas Sermon. widely available on-line.
If we thought we were jogging along quietly, along comes Covid.mark omicron. Here are the responses from the Roman Catholic and Anglican parishes in Canterbury. Not quite Christmas Past; let’s hope it is only Christmas Present, but not Christmas Yet-to-come!
MASKS AT MASS (AND IN OUR SHOP TOO)
The return to stricter Covid restrictions, announced by the Prime Minister this week, means that people must now wear face masks, sanitise their hands, keep a social distance and be aware of fellow worshippers’ safety when at Mass and in the church shop. Thank you
BOOKINGS FOR CHRISTMAS MASSES. Due to the COVID situation, it has been decided to ticket all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses. Tickets are now available via our website. For those unable to access the website bookings system, please telephone the Parish Office – please leave a message including a contact telephone number. Bookings will close at midnight on Wednesday, 22nd December and no further tickets in any format will be available after this time. Thank you
CHRISTMAS FAIR.: Sunday. 12 December 10:30- 12:30 in Hall. WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO THE COVID STATUS
And Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter, Anglican Benefice.
Covid updates and cancellations
Following the guidance issued by the government on Weds 8th December, face coverings are now mandatory in places of worship, unless exempt. We will also for the short term, return to receiving communion in one kind in seats.
Remain mindful of social distancing.
Sanitise hands upon entry.
More information can be found at: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2021-12/COVID%2019%20Guidance%20v2.3.pdf In light of this, both the Rectory Christmas drinks party is cancelled (18th December) and the Benefice Homecoming Bring & Share lunch on the 19th December is cancelled. We will keep you up to date with any further developments, but at the moment our pattern of Christmas Services remain as planned, with mandatory wearing of face coverings, hand sanitising and remain mindful of social distancing.
Maggie Terry: “It is crazy to think about just how much we consume and how little we care about it.” (Caila Rentz)
From the wild places under the stars to the city that never sleeps: quite a step! But it’s Christmas shopping time so we ought to give some thought to the waste that activity entails. it’s all part of stewardship of creation: being set over the works of God’s hands, as we read in Psalm 8 yesterday. This article on dumpster diving shows how some people are pushing back against the appalling waste they see all around them: food, furniture, clothes, toys, and more. It comes from the National Catholic Reporter; the link will take you to the full article. There are many differences between United Kingdom and the USA, but we too are guilty of tremendous waste: what are we doing about it?
Maggie Terry’s idea of a great night out in New York City is a little different from many of her peers’. Rather than heading to her couch or a cocktail bar to unwind after a day of work, she looks forward to something else: dumpster diving.
The 24-year-old elementary school teacher and her husband, Michael, spend their evenings (“every day but Saturday,” Terry says) digging through the trash for salvageable goods. Their finds are wide-ranging, from $400 worth of KitKats in a Walgreens dumpster one night to an antique Hartmann chest circa 1890 pulled from residential trash and valued at $3,000 the next.
The duo keeps what they can use — the Hartmann chest now serves as their coffee table — and redistributes the rest, by way of donation to food banks, charities, or just leaving goods out for free on their front stoop, where most items are taken by neighbors within 24 hours.