Writing as I do on Christmas Day of 2021, it is difficult to feel the full joy of this the holiest of days. The world seems full of infection, charlatan politicians, and human messiness.
So, I started to think through the ghosts of Christmases past. The midnight carol services of my youth, known in Scotland as Watchnight services, that could be a tad unruly with those who have just rolled out the pub. The Christmases when I brought home fellow students from abroad to share the annual feast. Then there are those services I led myself as a minister. The Christingle jamborees filled with families expectant of what is to come. Then the late-night ones, quietly contemplative, when we lit candles at the new day being born.
But one stands out above all others. It happened one of the few Christmases I spent in England. There I attended the local church for the midnight mass. It was a very ancient building with the names of its priests on a very long roll. There you would see the Saxon names give way to French ones after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Then name after name followed down the centuries to the present day.
I must have been contemplating this history of over twelve hundred years at the striking of the hour. Suddenly it was like holding a mirror up to a mirror. Since briefly, I felt the countless faithful who had worshipped the coming of Christ on this very spot over more than half the interval since that first night in the stable.
So as we enjoy our today, let us not forget it is but the ephemeral surface of a deep story – a fathomless pool of meaning that has infused human lives for two millennia. May we also see the light of God reflecting off this event’s present celebration. Because it is these beams that will guide our way into a better future.