Scott Sanders launches our Advent series by getting lost in the bush and finding the humble path - at expense of his pride.
Natalie Lammas Williams is a social policy advisor and the Chair of Common Grace.
Today's reading is Psalm 98
I’m not sure too many people read meditations on Christmas Day, so well done for taking the time to reflect with us for the final time in this Advent series.
Today’s Scripture asks us to sing to a new song because, “the Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.” I imagine this Psalm might have inspired the following well-known passage in C.S Lewis’ novel The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe:
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
Doesn’t this passage describe it so beautifully? Christmas Day is like walking through a portal and being unfolded into a world that finally makes sense. Today, we wake up.
A friend of mine has been travelling across Italy and she recently wondered on social media why there was no baby Jesus figurine in any of the public Nativity scenes she was seeing (“presepe ” in Italian). Households across Italy are mad about their presepe and a quick Google Images search shows how elaborate the scenes can be and how they can be taken to the most lavish extremes, some with live animals and even real people. To answer my friend's question, it turns out that the baby Jesus is always missing from the presepio during Advent. According to local tradition, he is only ever added after midnight on Christmas Eve.
It often feels like we spend much of life waiting for Jesus to be added to the picture, doesn't it? Meanwhile, the suffering and devastation on our planet feels bleak and inescapable, and if you are the kind of person who agitates for justice, it can be all too easy to rage angrily and obsessively against the darkness. I know anger can be a powerful and productive force, but when our inner tension overwhelms us, we tend to become a mirror image of it: fearful, closed-off and bitter.
We need a spirituality of waiting.
Two years ago I gave birth to my first child and, like every other first-time mother, faced one of the most profound and daunting transitions of my life. To manage labour I was taught that each contraction is just one minute long with a beginning, middle, and end, and then you get a break. The midwives told me that when you feel like you can’t take any more, you just focus on one moment at a time, keep breathing, and don’t allow your mind to wonder how long it will last. The reality of childbirth was far less straightforward and I’m not sure any birthing class could have truly prepared me for the hours of agonising pain, and the series of cascading medical interventions that left physical and emotional injuries I’m still recovering from. Yet amongst all the unexpected trauma, one of the gifts of labour was that it presented a valuable opportunity for drawing on the resource of staying in the moment. Remembering how I called on that during childbirth has been vital during the sometimes overwhelming moments of new motherhood, and helps me take that deep breath of surrender and accept that it’s just this moment.
Perhaps the heart of our spiritual practice is learning this lesson. When everything goes wrong and you are slogging through the mud of difficulty, do not let the darkness deflate you. Focus on one moment at a time, take rests as you go, and trust in his voice as Jesus calls you home.
It's a leap of faith to breathe through what currently is by trusting in what will be. That’s why celebrating Christmas Day is necessary. Today we see that God came to be with us, God is still with us, and God is putting all things right.
So take heart, friends. Happy Christmas! And fear not.
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Praise the Judge of the World
1 O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvellous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.