Preparation For Christmas
Fr. Woodiock's Empire Broadcast
Throughout the cycle of her ecclesiastical year, which began on the first Sunday of Advent, the season of soul-preparation for the coming of the Redeemer at Christmastide, the Church carries on this work of teaching the message of Christ, and her message about Him. It is her aim to bring Christ and His gospel of good news " with freshness each year to individual souls. She strives to bring you and me into touch with Christ, not as just a historical personage who lived long ago and far away in Palestine, but as One who is alive today, who is deeply interested in us individually and who did what He did long ago for us no less truly than He did it for Peter and Andrew and John and the contemporaries of His earthly life.
The words He spoke then were meant to reach our ears today: they apply to us in our modern world. It is the mission of His Church to pass them on through the centuries of time as wireless passes on the sound of my voice through hundreds of miles of space over the seas today to the far distant Empire listeners whom I am now addressing.
Back to the Cave
At Christneastide the Church strives to get us to go back in spirit, and in memory, to the first Christmas night. She wants to take us over the seas, to make us he present in the Cave of Bethlehem. It requires an effort of thought on our part, but it is not merely a sort of child's game of " let's pretend " we are there. Rather is it, in a fuller sense than the words usually signify, a " make-belief," with a real foundation for the belief. In a certain true sense we were there that night.
When we use the words "there " and " then" we are conscious of the conditions of space and time under which we live, but we can break through and get beyond these limitations. Does not the natural power of memory carry us back in a very true sense through time and take us to faroff places where we once lived? Overseas emigrants often make these memory-journeys through space and time as they dwell in thought on the homeland and on long ago. And, are we not at this moment, through the wonderful discovery of wireless, breaking the shackles of space boundaries?
Here I am sitting alone in London in a B.B.C. studio, yet in a very true sense I am with you who listen to me in your homes throughout the Empire. One day television will help to mike us get together " more closely still. But even today, space no longer divides us, no more than it can entirely separate and keep apart friends who talk to each other over a trans-ocean telephone and are thus brought together. And even time, as well as space, has to surrender some of its control over us. It is 9.35 a.m. here where I sit. In Melbourne and Sydney it is 7 o'clock on a Sunday night, and in New Zealand where it is now 9 o'clock, perhaps there are families who are taking part in this service from London.
Time and Space Transcended
How little does " Big Ben " and Greenwich time count as an obstacle to our getting together and being in communion with and present to each other at this moment? Time and space is being transcended by the help of the material waves that put us in touch with each other.
Now God, the Eternal, Omnipresent, All-knowing Creator lives outside all space_ time limitations, With Him there is no memory of what is past and gone. no speculations about a future that is hidden from His mind. To His mind all things that have happened, are happening or will ever happen, are present in an unchanging. eternal, "here " and " now.And our faith, accepting His revelation given in the Gospel through His Incarnate Son, can link us up with His Eternal Mind and help us to return this Christmastide in spirit to Bethlehem. It enables us to recognise how we were present there and then, when Christ was born. We were there in the mind and heart of God. We were part of the reason why He "emptied Himself out and took the form of a servant" in the human nature, in the littleness and feebleness of the new-horn Babe that night.
This is the Church's message to you and me. We were in the mind of the Incarnate Son of God then, and present to Him as truly as were the shepherds present before Him and the Wise men whom He was beckoning with their gifts from their eastern homes by the guiding Star of Bethlehem, and we were why He came.
The Church's message is a message from God of deep import to you and to me. What is it?
" God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son"—and that Son lay on the manger straw. "God Himself, shall come," had been promised through the prophet Isaiah—and here now was God, in His mother Mary's arms, nourished in His infant needs at her breast. "He loved me and delivered Himself up for me," cried St. Paul grasping the truth towards which we are groping—the wonderful truth that matters so much to you and me—that the Incarnation was not a Divine approach to mankind in the mass and multitude, but a self-offering of God Himself to each individual—to you and to me because we need
Him. Our faith, if it be strong enough, is just a vivid memory of that fact. Isaiah, looking forward over 500 years, said "God
Himself will come"; we, looking back over 1,900 years can affirm God Himself came." and we were why He came. The Church wants us to ponder this amazing fact in memory, till it carries us back in spirit through the centuries and over the seas in thought, and we find ourselves " there" and then": there in the sacred shrine—that cold, windswept cave where the Babe lies in swaddling bands on the straw; then on the birthday of " Emmanuel —God with us.
Receive Him at His Coming
One reason why the Church is so eager to get us back in spirit to Bethlehem each Christmas is that we may be definitely numbered with those who " receive Him at His coming. St. John tells us how, after years of expectation and prophetic warnings about His coming, there was the sad truth to chronicle. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." There was " no room for Him" when He came; nobody seemed to want Him, as today so few feel any need of Him or are interested in His comings.
Joseph found the inn crowded-out; he knocked from door to door in the little town, but no one would put himself to inconvenience to shelter the expectant Mother of the Messias, so at last he led her to a stable-cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This rejection that night was prophetic and typical of the lack of welcome shown by so many souls whom the Incarnate God loved and came to help, all
hrough the Christian era up right to our awn day. Yet, the promise is still valid, God's bribe is still offered to us today as n the past : " To all who did receive Him, Fie gave the power to be made the Sons if God." And the Church's eagerness on our behalf is that we may be among the number who gain this gift. She strives each year to stimulate our sluggish souls so that we may make ready a welcome for Him and make room for Him in our hearts.
The Church unfalteringly proclaims the wonderful truth committed to her. She teaches us Who in reality this little Babe of Bethlehem is: it is her most fundamental gospel. " The Word was made flesh" and " The Word" is the Son, the Second Person of the Triune God. The union of the Divinity and Humanity in Christ at His Incarnation remains a mystery; we can. but bow our minds before the wonderful fact. "God .so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son " — and the Son became the Babe of Bethlehem, and that Babe is adorable because Be is the Son of God.
That is the Gospel " good-news " for us. The Christmas hymn which you all, perhaps, know from childhood, states the doctrine, and the refrain, repeated in each verse calls on us to worship and adore at Bethlehem. Because of the Divine Fore.. knowledge the adoration which we give today can reach back through the centuries and be with Him as a welcome in the cave of Bethlehem that night when He was born, long ago in the past though. it be.
A Lesson from Jamaica
I remember hearing a few years ago from a missionary nun in Jamaica how, one Christmas, a poor, old, white-haired, coloured man journeyed down from the hills to Kingston because he had heard of the Christmas crib in the convent chapel. How many millions of those cribs, with their statues of the Mother and the Divine Child, have helped to bring home to Christians in later centuries the realities of the first Christmas night since St. Francis of Assisi, seven hundred years ago, made his first crib and set it under the altar before Midnight Mass to stir the chilled devotion of the people of Greccio.
The old coloured man was ignorant and illiterate, but he had been taught the elements of the Christian faith. The nun took him to the simple crib, where brown paper rocks reproduced the cave, a kneeling statue represented the virgin-mother, and a little swaddled image lying on straw recalled the Babe of Bethlehem. Long the old man gazed upon the group, peering in and studying the details. She told me: "I wondered if his faith was being shaken at the sight, as he stared silently at the image of the child. The plaster image of the Babe so emphasised the littleness and feebleness and dependence of infancy." "God Himself had come "—would the old man's faith hold firm to this truth, she wondered. At last he stood up and she sate that tears were streaming down his wrinkled face. He raised his hands in a gesture of wonder and gratitude and sobbed with joy as he said: "To link dat de big God who make all de world and the sun and stars and eberything, make Himself to be a little piccaniny just fo' love of me." And he walked back home, ten miles over the hills to the little mud but where he lived alone, with the joy of Christmas in his heart. Poor old, despised nigger! He knew how God valued him.
He knew nothing about the theology of the hypostatic union, he had never puzzled over the all-important difference between the honio-ousion and homoiousion which bishops who formulated the creed at th first Council of the Church discussed; buu he knew in its gospel simplicity and clarity the great truth they defined and defended. God Himself had come, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and come through love of him a poor old nigger man to redeem and save him.
A Thought for the Scientist
It should not be more difficult to believe in the Incarnation in this so-called scientific, modern time than it was in the " ages of faith." It is only minds that are paralysed and poisoned by the
miasma of the Victorian materialism' which still hangs heavily over our civilisation that find a new difficulty in accepting the Incarnation because of modern scientific progress. True, we know today that the universe is not
three-storied," that the earth is not astronomically the centre and hub and pivot of the universe. It is cosmically insignificant, but a speck. a chilled cinder in a corner that was thrown off by the sun millions of years ago and has grown cold and solid. It is, we know not the centre paint of material reality, but lies in an unimportant suburb of an unimaginably immense universe. Yet, granted all this, if the earth alone, as seems probable, bears on its surface human life and minds and souls, and if God Himself, the Creator, has come and was born and lived a human life on this earth because of His love of those human souls, then it is in truth the very centre of the universe by every true standard of value. Material immensities of time and place matter little. Size and weight and distance count for nothing in the scales
that weigh and measure the worth and dignity of Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Eternal God Creator.
I have dwelt upon the doctrine of the Incarnation for surely it matters much what answer we give in our hearts to the question which Christ addressed to His disciples in the later years of His life: "Whom do men say that 1 am? whom do you say." With Peter and with the Christian Church we reply confidently today, looking upon the Babe of Bethlehem lying on the straw in the cave: " Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God: we arc here to adore thee." There are, alas, multitudes who have not heard and welcorrase this gospel—this " good news." We rreeer strive by the warmth of our welcome to make up to Christ for those who know Him not. For millions Christmas today is not associated in their minas with Christ, though to their forefeet-tees who coined the name He was the central thought and source of it all and the reason why they made His birthday a glad national and family festival.
On Us a Duty To an increasing number of people today the meaning of Bethlehem ;oat Cal vary is unknown. So upon us who do know about Him there is a greater duty of love to make up. We must not be content with a "Charles Dickens' Christmas," but must make it a time of religious as well as a time of worldly festivity.
Look into your soul and make sure you are not one who " has no room " for Him "in your heart" so that you "receive Him not." Ask yourself, is my interest so embedded in worldly and material things that my heart is all crammed full and clut. tered-up with creaturedaves„ so that He can find no corner in it which He can he born again this Christmas? Is there, above all, any hatred or any unforgiving spirit towards anyone, or selfishness or a pride of independence and self-sufficiency so that you feel no need of Him?
Be generous in your gifts to the poor this coming Christmas, not merely from the philanthropic motive of natural sympathy and kindliness, though this is good, but, from the higher and ail-reaching motive of faith and love of Christ which is best. Remember how, when the Babe had grown to manhood, He said : " What you do to the least of My brethren, you are doing to Me: I was hungry and you gave Me to eat, homeless and you gave Me shelter, sick and you came to see Me." Give your Christmas gifts in His name and with the knowledge that your gifts reach Him, when they reach His poor.
Each of us individually needs Christ, and never since He came did the world at large so need Him, the "Prince of peace," as it does today. " Glory to God in 'the highest," sang the angels at Both;ehene "and peace on earth to men of gceodwill." This is the Christmas blessing haered with Christ to the world at each succeeding Christmas. But not until the brotherhood of man in Christ comes to be recognised by nations in the solution of their international problems, not until Christ's spirit and his doctrine of peace through unselfishness, both pee The Children's Festival Christmas has ever been a children's festival. Family life, of which there is, alas, so .much less today than there used tc should centre in the children. Their happiness should be a paramount interest at Christmastide. Let your children's happiness include, nay, lel it grow out of the thought that God Himself came as a child, to be one of them, giving by His own personal, human life a new beauty and sacredness to childhood and youth. See that your chiidren learn much about Him Who commanded. " Let the little children come to Me and prevent them not." Don't let them grow up without their knowing the meaning—the real meaning of Christmas.
The Children's Festival
Christmas has ever been a children's festival. Family life, of which there is, alas, so .much less today than there used
tc should centre in the children. Their happiness should be a paramount interest at Christmastide. Let your children's happiness include, nay, lel it grow out of the thought that God Himself came as a child, to be one of them, giving by His own personal, human life a new beauty and sacredness to childhood and youth. See that your chiidren learn much about Him Who commanded. " Let the little children come to Me and prevent them not." Don't let them grow up without their knowing the meaning—the real meaning of Christmas.