Advent 2020 Sample:
In the Bleak Mid-Winter
'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 5)
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Saturday didn’t start so well, and by the time I got to the barber’s, I was feeling upset and regretful, and slumped onto a chair to wait my turn. And it all caught up with me in those moments of waiting: the weirdness of the year, the angst in the air …
I expect it's caught up with you recently, too.
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An obstinately soulful version of 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter' came on the radio in the background, sung by Annie Lennox.
I realised I'd always lazily equated the words “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow …” with the magic of a Christmas card scene; but they come into truer, biting focus as news of the new strain of virus, and extra lockdown restrictions, fall like fresh dumps upon this year's chill accumulation, until it feels like an avalanche.
But in one of those merciful glimmers when a signal crackles through the static, the barber’s well-rehearsed conversation about 'these strange times' fell still, and the shop seemed to stop, and we listened as a little congregation.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
* * *
‘It is precisely because we are weary, and poor in spirit,’ writes Kathleen Norris, ‘that God can touch us with hope.’
Blessed are the poor in spirit ...
I'm sure these have often proved hard words for many of us in the comfortable West, at least, to relate to.
‘This is not an easy truth,’ Norris agrees. ‘As the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, once said, it is only the poor and hungry, those who know they need someone to come on their behalf, who can celebrate Christmas.’
* * *
This year has reminded us of the humanity we share across our planet. For many of us, it’s the first time in our lives we've experienced such conspicuous, collective ‘weariness’ with so many others. Snow has fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.
But this is precisely the point at which we are able to celebrate, as archbishop Romero reminds us. So it’s a spiritual invitation like no other, in that sense.
The headlines, this weekend in the UK, announced that 'Christmas is cancelled'. Humbug. This is the moment Christmas begins. And if we feel as if we’ve nothing left to give, we’re probably ready to offer the one gift of true worth at our disposal.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart.
Which is almost certainly the only thing God was ever hoping for, anyway.
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