New Year Reflection at the Shrine Church of St Melangell.
Christmas is now over for many, although we are still in the twelve days of Christmas until Epiphany on January 6th as far as the church is concerned. One thing that struck me this year, however, is the relevance of many of the traditional Christmas carols that were sung. There have been some calls for their rewriting and one Anglican church carol service included an updated version of ‘God rest ye, merry gentlemen’ with the lines ‘God rest you, queer and questioning’ and ‘God rest you also, women, who by men have been erased’. Whatever the views of those attending – and not! – the Christmas story has once again been proclaimed in many ways with its universal message of hope and love for all people.
This winter is hard for many, bleak even, as some families, businesses and charities struggle to pay their way. Christina Rosetti wrote of another bleak midwinter in her carol of 1872, which mentions earth hard as iron and water like a stone. That may not be the case for us as we end what could turn out well the hottest year on record with primulas in bloom and blossom on some trees because it’s been so mild. But Rosetti’s carol speaks of the stable-place that sufficed for Jesus’ cradle – a place that was probably dirty and smelly from the animals and with shepherds from the hillsides rather than the family calling. However, it was enough to provide the milk and bedding that was needed and the basics were there. That first Christmas was very different and yet familiar too: a pregnant teenager, thought at first by her older fiancé to have mental health problems because she spoke of an angel visiting her; an uncertain journey to be counted at the census, with no room being found on arrival in a town full of their relatives – probably due to shame and embarrassment at the situation; the family fleeing as refugees and being homeless because Jesus was in danger……
But that’s why there’s something to celebrate as New Year begins – Jesus was entrusted to an ordinary human family, not into wealth or a palace befitting a king. The first to hear of his birth were those on the hills tending the sheep – it was the poor and marginalised who heard the song of the Angels which so many others did not and they were told the good news first, with Jesus spending his early life as a refugee and then growing up in obscurity. He experienced so many of the issues still being faced today as well as then – so little has changed and yet so much!
Rosetti asks what Jesus can be given, poor as I am, and suggests that giving her heart is what’s needed. That’s as true today as at the first Christmas and when she wrote her carol. Love, hope and human care were needed and were enough for God’s purposes then – and that can be so now, no matter how bleak things seem to be getting. The stripping back of the luxury and frivolity to which many seem to have become accustomed may enable the true and basic values at the heart of the Christmas story to emerge once more – and that could enable a hopeful New Year, no matter how uncertain and challenging things seem as it begins. May it be so!
With my prayers; pob bendith,