I am starting to write this at the end of Boxing Day having had a lovely visit from my daughter and her husband. Before they arrived for lunch I was able to spend quite a bit of time doing my Christmas picture in my prayer journal. It is the culmination of prayer and contemplation of the readings set for Christmas Day (Titus 3:4-7 and Luke 2: I have included the text of these at the end of the blog.)
This picture was inspired by a favourite sculpture that I bought whilst on holiday many years ago. It is entitled Tenderness and when I saw it for sale in the artist’s workshop I wanted it. It spoke to me of God’s tenderness towards me. I imagined I was the one being held in God’s tender arms. I expect it is supposed to be a mother and child, but that is not how I first saw it.
At the beginning of December, when I was wondering what to draw for my Sketch a Day challenge with the word prompt Baby, I did a quick sketch based on it and an image off the internet. I imagined that just as Jesus was held by Mary, we too can be held by God as we are spiritually re-born as his children. Jesus was enfolded in Mary’s love and we are enfolded in God’s love, through Him.
On Monday, when I started reflecting on the scriptures for my Christmas Day sermon I was drawn to the Titus reading and the grace that we receive by God’s loving kindness to be spiritually re-born. I also thought about Mary and that she pondered all these things in her heart. I had an image of her holding him newly born, protective, loving, gazing down at this wonderful gift of a son conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. Who was she to have been chosen for such an important role? I was reminded of the sermon preached by a Reader at the carol service the night before. He had quoted from the protogospel of James (not in the cannon of scripture) that claimed that Mary was miraculously conceived, dedicated to God and was a temple virgin married off to an elderly widower with children, who wasn’t up to having sex with her. Unlike our Reader, I do not find that at all helpful. For me, a Mary who is from a fairly ordinary background (priest in the family so not that ordinary) is more of a role model of obedience, trust and achievable holiness than someone consecrated and living in a temple.
But of course the important character in the story is Jesus. Perhaps the canonical gospels are quiet about Mary’s background because we need to focus on Jesus – the baby. God incarnate, born in the downstairs with the household animals because the guest rooms were taken. This reminds me of when I was young and visited grandparents for Christmas – my brother always slept on a camp bed in the lounge as there wasn’t a bedroom for him. Mary brought Jesus into the world, cared for him, fed and changed him, taught him how to behave and let him go, as he grew into a man. She played her part well. She enabled others to experience and know Emmanuel. We too share in this role of having God within us (the Holy Spirit) – not only for our own edification. But so we can follow the example of Mary and Joseph’s obedience and be part of being God’s love in a desperately needy world. I prayed that my preaching at the nativities and on Christmas morning would help those who listen open their hearts and lives to Christ this Christmas.
Like Mary, we too need to ponder the mystery of God becoming a tiny human baby. As Wesley put it in his hymn, Let earth and heaven combine:
“Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.”
I have my dear husband to thank for this – he quoted it in his sermon at the midnight communion (and at the 9.30pm). I was also edified by the other Reader’s sermon on Christmas morning and the focus on Grace, which I had also picked up on. In the end, for my Christmas morning (8.30am) sermon I repeated the all age talk from The 2 Christmas Eve nativity services. I had the awful experience of one of my front teeth crowns breaking off on Christmas Eve morning, so I started each talk by singing “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”. It raised a laugh and helped me to feel better about it. Each time the talk went slightly differently as I spoke without the script and with visual aids to prompt me. It was based heavily on a talk by J. John so I take very little credit for it. I had 4 gift bags which, when turned around were labelled and I spoke about Jesus being the perfect gift – personal (God knows each of us personally), practical (can light up and show our sin so we can be forgiven), permanent (water of life/everlasting life never runs out) and purchased (on the cross). I also made a connection between the Winter Magic bag and Aslan in Narnia. By happy coincidence the empty bottle I picked up from the kitchen is Angel Reserve and I was dressed as an Angel for the nativities :
So, going back to my art, I hope that my picture helps you to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation and God’s light breaking into our darkness. The invitation is for us to have Jesus born afresh in our hearts each Christmas, to experience the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour. We are saved by Grace, spiritually re-born so that we may be held in God’s tender embrace.
I wish you a happy Christmas and a very Blessed 2020.
For those interested in the art process, here are photos of the work in progress. I erased the pencil before doing it with coloured pencils.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (NRSV)
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (NRSV)