Sunday 10th December 2017
Birth, death and Christmas
One of the privileges ministers have is to vicariously meet people through the memories of the loved ones as stories are gathered up in preparation for a funeral. Often we find ourselves wishing we could have met the person in life rather than in the echoes of life and death as they reverberate through the telling of tales.
In the last few weeks I have been privileged to share in such tales and then to breathe life into them as the tales are retold in an atmosphere of thanksgiving and praise.
In this way I have met a man of 93 years who would look for many like an archetypal Santa Claus but who would also in his generosity give out bizarre presents. This man would ensure his generosity would be twofold. Firstly, the presents would be bought as bric-a-brac from the stalls of his favourite charity and secondly when the right thing was spotted he would know who it would be just right for. So he was able to bless both the charity and the person receiving the present. His third, unintentional blessing, was to the charity volunteers who could only guess at the reactions these idiosyncratic gifts would provoke as they were unwrapped. Both the volunteers and the recipients met at the funeral; and hilarity and love were equally shared.
I have also met a man of 30 suddenly taken from those he loved in an act of disregard for the value of human life. His mother was not expecting to be bidding farewell to her son in this way. Through the sharing of his story, I encountered a man who took delight in the prospect of people unexpectedly discovering the many strawberries he has planted around the community in which he lived. Those plants are probably unnoticed now, but the fruit will burst into riotous reds as they ripen in next summer’s sun.
Through the story of Christmas and Nativity we meet vicariously a mother and a son. As we contemplate the birth scene with halos, shimmering skin, blue cloth draped across the mother’s head and the baby pristine on golden straw we may miss the raw reality of the real birth. Thirty years beyond the horizon of the birth event we will encounter the mother again, careworn features shimmering less; and her son less pristine on coarse brown wood. Mary was fully aware of the blessing that came through the life of her precious gift and was blessed with seeing beginnings of the echoes of hope reverberating grace and mercy beyond the horizon of death for all eternity.
As the season approaches many experience new birth and loss and are confronted with the mystery of holding both. Let us be gentle with one another as we welcome in birth the prince of peace; and the encourage one another with unexpected blessings in the resurrection hope that he brings – and may the encounter with Jesus be not vicarious, but real.
Rev Nigel Rodgers