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December 2011

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'Again we will gather the scattered company of ancient characters and make our way through the gloom of night to light a lamp and stare.'


Prayer and reflection for December

A Holy Night

This is the month that brings us to your cradle.
Again we will gather the scattered company of ancient characters and make our way through the gloom of night to light a lamp and stare.
Once more we will smell the animals and the damp hay and the strange scent of rich and rare perfumes from the far, far East.
We will have joined the processions wending their way to Bethlehem.
We will have found doors shut in our faces in a village suddenly overcrowded by the census and the demands of Rome.
We will have gathered where the cattle get fed and found shelter where the animals huddle against the cold of the night.
But it is a night of such bright and vivid stars!
One burns brighter than all the rest; a beacon in the sky for anyone with wisdom and eyes to see what it might signal.
We will have seen Bethlehem’s lights and fires twinkling in the distant darkness from the vantage point of a shepherds’ camp on the hillside above.
We will have heard again the night-shattering angels who petrify and persuade through their golden words and send shepherds scampering down into the sleeping streets to find one place, one family, one baby amidst all the humanity jostled into those narrow walls.
We will have been hushed again to see, emerging from the gloom and from deepest mystery, a caravan that has crossed deserts to find, in this unremarkable little place, one family and one baby.
We will have seen and felt the shock for Mary and Joseph as their already traumatic day turns into unbelievable night upon night of visitors and wild claims and costly gifts that seem to signify far more than any words can say.
We will, as we have done, people our cribs with characters, our hymns with a cast straight from the pages of scripture, our minds with the memories of countless nativity plays and the versions that make it to film, TV, radio and the web.
We will, dear God, shape again in our minds the way we imagine it might have been.
And this old story will unfold like some glorious cloak of gold and swaddle the whole world with rumours of heaven.
This ancient set of tales which we can twist and abuse and treat so lightly will, once more, settle beneath the radar of our cynicism and make a gentle space in our hearts.
And, again, we will find ourselves within a holy night, caught in the act of welcoming you.
We will be astounded by your fragile arrival amongst us.
And the world will be made new again, as on that first Christmas night, as when the angels sang.
We who travel so far and so fast and with such fury, find ourselves stopped by a baby.
And so, dear God, stop us again.
May we stoop, and kneel, and join in the wondering and the adoring.
And may this night ripple its holiness through our DNA.

This reflection and prayer has been written by the Rev Neil Thorogood, Director of Pastoral Studies at Westminster College, Cambridge.

Neil teaches pastoral theology on all the academic programmes and also has particular interests in the visual arts and theology. He is also a contributor to Christian Aid's daily readings.

Visit Christian Aid's daily readings page

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