Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In the past few days, with the University closed, no Zoom or Teams meetings intruding, and the beautiful service at St Lucius on Sunday, it began to feel like Christmas time. I’ve taken some long walks in the mist and in the sunshine. The beauty of this countryside, the sheep in the meadows, the horses in the fields, the waterfowl on the reservoirs, the trees etching wondrous designs against grey or blue… All of these speak of God’s great love for us and God’s plenteous and never-ending gifts. And I have been reminded again that rather than looking down at our phones, our tvs or listening to the news over and over, we need to look up.
And looking up was especially rewarding this week with the planets of Jupiter and Saturn coming together for their ‘Christmas Kiss’ the great conjunction which has not been so close and also visible in the night sky since 4 March 1226. Some people are calling it the Star of Bethlehem, and I’m not sure what I think about that. But then again, all stars, all planets are under God’s tender care so I suppose there is nothing to worry about there. I did manage to see Saturn and Jupiter on Sunday night, and even with my very weak telescope, two moons of Jupiter – but no rings of Saturn, I will have to get an upgrade for that I suppose. I was sorely disappointed that last night the cloud cover was too great, but hoping tonight to at least see the two again.
I love at all times looking up at a starry sky. As a child, on warm summer nights, we would ask our mother if we could sleep outside in the garden, and she always said yet. I remember watching the shooting stars and just losing myself in the vastness of it all. As a child this gave me a sense of the vastness of God. I think it is very important that we remind ourselves about the vastness of God, through whom all things were made, from the bumblebee crawling across the face of a sunflower, to the universe. This is an awesome knowledge, a daunting knowledge, and it reminds of us of what we sometimes need to be reminded of: That God is bigger than any problem, any issue, any threat in our personal lives, or in the world. Sometimes we get so chummy with God that we reduce God into someone like us, we create our own personal God and forget that God is the Lord of All and Everything. And worse, that in some ways God is us, and then we worship ourselves – our own opinions, our own needs, our own desires. It’s a danger we all fall into from time to time, diminishing that which should never be diminished. A long dose of star gazing is a good cure when we feel like God is too small to sort out our world. God is a God of Eternity, and God’s vision for this world, for us and all who have ever been, is glorious.
And yet, and here you are going to think I’m being difficult, a God that is so great is wonderful to think of, but then we can fall into the opposite danger of thinking we are too insignificant for such a God to care about our individual lives. The sure cure for this danger is Christmas. Christ entered this world humbly, in a stable. It was a quiet night except for that star that had long been in the sky – which is likely why it was not a great conjunction as it clearly lasted for several days. And the shepherds came. Try to forget the image created by years of Christmas cards and carols and just take your mind back. Think about the men, resting as the sun set, and then being overcome by an overwhelming sense of the divine. I wonder if they came down in turns so that someone was still up watching over the sheep. Did they peer into the stable? Did they see the infant in its makeshift cradle? Did they say to themselves, how can this be? How can this child be the savior of humanity? Or did they just wonder?
God enters this world in so many ways. The miracle of the Trinity – God father, Son and Holy Spirit – is so great we cannot comprehend it. As the Psalmist says ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is too high, I cannot reach it’. And yet so present that Jesus is recorded as telling us in the Gospel of St John, that ‘I am in my Father and you in me and I in you’. The wonderous mystery of our God. Christmas is a part of that wonder. We celebrate the fact the we belong to, are the children of, one who creates the universe, who enters our world as an infant child, and enters our hearts when we are born. That is quite a lot to be thinking of this Christmas.
We aren’t able to celebrate Christmas as we generally do. But we can, like the shepherds, listen to the beauty of God’s holiness as we contemplate what the birth of our Lord means for all.
God’s Blessings upon all of you in this most blessed time.
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas