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Hallo again to all, on this diptych of a Sunday, combining Advent IV and Christmas Eve in a single day.

Light and loveWe find it jarring, even if the combination does roll round every so often. We're edgy at the expectation of Christ's birth swooshing straight away into the Gloria in Excelsis of the angelic host. We fretted at the visual clash of poinsettias with the unseen lilies of Mary's Magnificat. This Sunday we were caught in a sort of liturgical traffic jam. We suspect that no matter how well a parish church manages to bridge the last of Advent with the first of Christmas, there's the sense of something off kilter.

But that's life, surely: the sudden change from one thing to another, whether good thing or bad. The liturgical calendar, decent and orderly as it is, brings an expected rhythm to the church's year that our life's year often doesn't have. We make our plans, and life disrupts them. We box up God in a lovely parcel to our own taste, and then we find that God isn't boxable. But then the blessed Christ Child in the crèche is nothing but the gift of God himself. A God of surprises indeed.

A wise priest once said to a young person struggling with the concept of the Incarnation and stumbling against it,

'If you can get over* the fact of creation, you can get over anything'.

It took a while, but we did.

The first magnificent surprise of God's love was the explosion of the universe. The next was the enfleshment of God in the very stuff of this place, this dimension, with all its limitations and ugliness and awfulness, and yet withal its terrible fragile beauty. Martin Wroe captures it well in his moving poetic reflection Are You Flesh of our Flesh, Bone of our Bones?

what colour are you God
what's your body like
any disabilities, distinguishing characteristics
would we spot you in a crowd
would we stare at you for some deformity
how many senses have you got
five, six, eighteen, ninety four
and what's your sense of touch like
is your handshake firm as a vice or slippery as an eel
what do you smell of
anything in particular — the universe, for example —
planets, oceans, space, skies
do you smell of petrol like everything else

we believe your Spirit is always willing
but is your flesh ever weak

and if the Word was made flesh
are you flesh of our flesh
bone of our bones
is that you there, meek and mild
all meanly wrapped in swaddling clothes
is that you, Baby J
Word of the Father
now in flesh appearing
is that you screaming as you arrived
like the rest of us
screaming at the shock of the new
the shock of the cold and the old and the broken
is that you, Baby J

Each Christmas, we know once again that it is indeed 'Baby J'. The very same Lord of the Universe, that baby, right there, 'covered in blood and gunge and straw who moments before had been covered in glory'. At that point, words fail — and only adoration is possible. Venite adoremus!

A blessed and joyful Christmas, dear friends. Love, light, grace, and peace to each of you as you celebrate the nativity of our Saviour. Rejoice!

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Last updated: 24 December 2006

* 'Get over', used in the sense of 'intellectually accept'

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