This morning I listened repeatedly to John Rutter’s beautiful “Candlelight carol”, and found myself moved to tears. Am I just a soppy old lady? (Don’t answer that) Am I just moved by the sweet music of choristers’ voices soaring up into the awesome void of a cathedral ceiling? I admit do love that, but it was the lyrics that blessed me, encapsulating profound truth in a few lines.
How do you capture the wind on the water,
How do you count all the stars in the sky
How can you measure the face of a mother
How can you write down a baby’s first cry?
Perhaps because we have acquired two new grandchildren this last summer, I am particularly sensitive to the beauty of babies. I broke into grateful tears when we heard that Simon and Caroline’s little Isaac was safely born; and joined in the tears of joy on Tim’s face as he cradled his new daughter in his arms .( so special after three boys!) So covid hear was not entirely without its joys!
It is trite but true: a baby’s first cry is astonishingly precious. I remember going into labour with our first-born, and as I gazed around the delivery room from the high hospital bed, with the little cot in the corner waiting to receive my baby, the oxygen tank standing by, the nurses in their starched aprons, I was grateful. It was an antiquated old hospital, long since demolished and rebuilt, but I was so glad it wasnt a stable! It was clean, warm and I had professional help. In those hours I appreciated afresh my privileges; and I identified with Mary in the pain and joy of childbirth. When my son was eventually born and I heard that first cry, I experienced the truth that the pain recedes into the background because of the joy of the new life. (Although it was a long time before I could bear to think of going through all that again!)
Really, it is not surprising that Mary is venerated, although she would not want to be worshipped because her life was to serve her son, and all worship belongs to him. But to see life coming forth from one’s own body is an awesome thing; and Mary somehow unites the human experience with divine truth: and anyone who has given birth can at least in part identify with her.
I love the juxtaposition too, in the song, of the thought that there are things that are beyond us, mysterious, huge, and impossible to put into words, such as millions of stars, and wind which is invisible but whose movement is powerful; and into this huge and varied landscape the focus zooms in on a baby crying: so small yet central to the whole massive picture.
The song continues:
Shepherds and wisemen will kneel down before him
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour,
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.
Again the joining of majesty and humility! The Incarnation is beyond explanation. The older I get, the more I simply bow before the truth, totally unable to express its glory, its simplicity and its profound depth.
I am immeasurably grateful that God allowed me to give birth. Each of my five children was an inexpressible gift. But birth itself is an amazing thing, and to know and experience a child growing inside your body is a great and wonderful privilege. We should not take it lightly. And then to hold, touch, feed and nurture, train and love this life is a great and huge responsibility, full of challenges as well as joy. This song celebrates motherhood and rightly so.
We have an enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He hates the human race because God loves it and has sent his son to redeem it. The enemy besmirches that which is precious, makes the sacred mundane, calls that which is beautiful a nuisance.
This year, Christmas will be stripped down. Traditional events such as concerts, pantomimes and parties are mostly cancelled. Shopping is a meagre affair, or absent, not an exciting trip to Oxford Street to see the lights and join hordes of shoppers in bright shops and decorated streets. We are very limited as to whom we can invite and celebrate with. It will be much more subdued than usual. But maybe, in the absence of all the peripheral trappings, we will be able to meditate and dwell on what it is all about, which so often gets lost in all the noise and excitement: the wonder of God becoming a baby boy.
Think on it and be thankful. This bare Christmas could be the best yet.