Christmas Message from Fr. Richard Stanton, Priest Director
I wonder what Christmas Day was like in Norwich in, say, 1400, when the Lady Julian was living and praying in her little cell attached to St Julian’s Church. I wonder what her Christmas was like?
The Mass will have been celebrated, of course, at the high altar, and she will have received the Blessed Sacrament – the Word, once made flesh, made flesh again for her, to be taken and received as the very Bread of life, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth now as then, then in Bethlehem of old, now in Bethlehem on every Christian altar, since Bethlehem is (in Hebrew) the ‘House of Bread’. For Julian, for us, this is Christmas – the Christ-Mass.
I hope that, if it is possible for you in your situation, you will be able to receive Holy Communion at Christmas, after a good preparation. If it is not, then know that you are held in the loving prayer not only of our praying fellowship in the Friends, but also in the union of prayer which draws together the household of faith in every time and place, that union ‘rooted and grounded in love’ which overcomes every artificial separation imposed by distance or chronology.
Indeed, there is no ‘social distancing’ for us who believe in the communion of saints. We are woven together into one glorious, organic society, animated by the Spirit of life by which Jesus was raised from the dead. So the saints are very real people to us, as they were to Julian – and particularly among them, perhaps, the Mother whose face looks out to us this Christmas from a thousand stamps and crib scenes and cards – and, too, in those who like Mary are unwed, or disbelieved, or refugees, or in danger in the world. ‘She saw herself,’ said Julian, ‘so little and so low, so simple and poor compared with God that she was filled with humility. And so from this humbleness she was lifted up to grace and all manner of virtues, and stands above all.’
Littleness, lowness, simplicity, poverty: the world has little time for these things, and perhaps less than ever at Christmas, so frantic is it to concoct a betinselled jamboree which frontloads extravagance and wealth (or credit). Our baptism has made us ambassadors for a different kingdom with different values, and, as St Paul said, now ‘you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’
I wish you and yours all the true spiritual riches of the feast for which we are waiting, and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we prepare for Christ-mass, let us try again to honestly open ourselves, in simplicity and poverty, to the love he wants to give us, and welcome him again whose ‘true home is in man’s soul – and the highest light and brightest radiance in that city is the glorious love of our Lord.’
O come to us, abide with us: our Lord Emmanuel.