For Reflection: This week Benjamin reflects on the fragility at the heart of this and every Christmas
John 1: 1:14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
We are blessed in the Parishes by the Wall with a series of beautiful Church buildings each with details that draw the eye and, as the shape and form and the art of these buildings are designed to do, draw our eye to God.
Each Christmas it should not be a surprise that my eye is often drawn to the Nativity scene in the East Window of St Cuthbert’s in Haydon Bridge ( pictured here).
Designed by the renowned stained glass artist Thomas Kempe it was installed in 1898 as one of four Kempe windows in the Church. It is very beautiful, but in many ways very standard depiction of the adoration of the shepherds. Framed in the centre are Mary and the Christ-child with adoring shepherds to either side, with the angelic host in attendance above.
However, for me the beauty in this window is not in the classic form of this scene but perhaps surprisingly in the detail of the stable roof. Above this joyous scene is beautifully rendered thatched straw roof. It is threadbare, and tattered, and fragile. I have found myself reflecting a lot on this fragile and tattered stable roof as we have been drawing closer to this Christmas.
This will not be the first time that you have heard me reflect on the theme of fragility through this past year. It has, for me, been a defining term for us all. We have got so used to living our carefully managed modern lives that it has, certainly for me, been a shock to realize how fragile our world really is. The supply chains for our food and basic provisions stretched to breaking point; our ability to access basic health care limited; a recognition of our own mortality in the face of this virus more real for many of us than at any other point in our lives to now.
As we have come close to Christmas this fragility has become even more real for us. Over the last weeks I have been working with Gill and the Church Wardens to ensure that our Christmas offering is as safe as it can be. This time of year, when we not only want people to come to Church, but people want to come to Church, we have had to recognise that, at this time, coming to Church is not a risk-free activity. I know for many of us our well-laid plans for Christmas-bubbles popped at the eleventh hour. And the things that make Christmas Christmas cannot happen because our very basic movements are limited and controlled because the world we live in is suddenly and quite shockingly more fragile than we realised.
As I have reflected on our fragile world, I have found it a comfort to reflect on the fragile and tattered roof of the stable in this nativity scene. Part of this is the recognition that the fragility we know now is not a new thing. I like to think that those worshipping in St Cuthbert’s on the Christmas after the installation of this window would have seen that fragile and tattered roof and recognised in it something of the fragility of their own lives.
But more than acting as a crumb of historical comfort, this fragile roof tells us something of the transforming truth of Christmas. As I said at the beginning of this reflection this window is, in many ways, a pretty standard nativity scene. But what marks it out is that the fragile and tattered roof is not a detail within the whole, it is frame within which the whole scene is set.
The worshipping shepherds gather within the frame of that fragility. The angels bring the worship and songs of heaven under that tattered gable, Mary holds the Christ-child in the shelter of that threadbare roof. In this window God comes close to us in the frame and shape and experience of our tattered and fragile lives and world.
The profound truth of this transforming reality is captured in the words of that wonderful early Christmas hymn, “Of the Father’s Heart begotten”. In it Prudentius reflects on the cosmic scale we are presented in our Gospel reading and the tender, personal, transforming truth it brings to us each Christmas.
He assumed this mortal body,
frail and feeble, doomed to die,
that the race from dust created
might not perish utterly,
Each Christmas, and this Christmas more than ever, we are called to know that in Jesus Christ all of God’s self – worshipped on heaven and earth – is drawn into the frame of our tattered and fragile lives. Not to magic that fragility away, or pretend that is doesn’t matter. God in Jesus comes as a fragile baby into our fragile world so that all of our world might be redeemed and transformed through him.
At this Christmas, and in this world framed by the fragility of this age, I pray that you will know God’s care and love for you and all who you love this Christmas. And that through that knowledge we might all make a home for God in the fragile frame of our own lives this Christmas
Questions for reflection
1. What has felt particularly fragile for you this year?
2. What has felt fragile for you this Christmas?
3. Have you felt God present in this fragility, if so when?