A Classic Michael Spencer Post
From Christmas 2008
My favorite piece of liturgy in the world is a sentence in the opening section of the Traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast round the world on the BBC. Why is it so moving? Because it is beautiful and true. Each year, as more and more of those I know join the saints in light, this single portion of the prayer becomes more and more evocative of the power of Gospel hope. Somehow, hope returns, over and over, to be the most powerful gift of the Gospel for me in this life.
The entire opening is a work of art in language, full of lucid prose statements of the Gospel, but the tear-inducing, singularly moving line for me is in boldface:
The Dean: Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels: in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and with the Magi adore the Child lying in his Mother’s arms.
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this chapel, dedicated to his pure and lowly Mother, glad with our carols of praise:
But first let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build, within the dominions of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, within this University and City of Cambridge, and in the two royal and religious Foundations of King Henry VI here and at Eton:
And let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all who know not the loving kindness of God.
Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one.
These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us: Our Father…
All: Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.
The Dean: The Almighty God bless us with his grace: Christ give us the joys of everlasting life: and unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all.
Those who rejoice with us, on another shore and in a greater light.
I have many friends and family in that multitude. Usually I miss them. But with this line, I envy them.
It is evocative of the vision given to us in Hebrews.
Hebrews 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Just a glimpse, for a moment, of the completed work of the Christ-child. The righteous “made perfect.” The assembly of those who all God’s firstborn sons in his only begotten son. The New Jerusalem, where the journey is completed. Where faith in the Word made flesh has come to glorious completion.
It is a “greater Light” than we know. It has always shone in the darkness, but in Bethlehem it was incarnated. In Jesus it was manifested. In the cross and resurrection it proved that the darkness cannot overcome it.
Now, the saints dwell in that light. From another shore, they tell us that the Lamb is worthy of our faith and that their hope was secure.
In that city, there is no sun, for Lamb is the Light. But at this very moment, as we sit in the artificial twinkling lights of our American Christmases, full (too full) of the best that this paltry life has to offer, the saints on another shore, and in a greater light, surround us with rejoicing and urge us on to the City of God. They urge us to live in the hope of the Word made flesh, and to know we will not be disappointed.
Whatever your tradition tells you today about those who have gone before us, you can pause and contemplate this multitude that cannot be counted. You can hear their song and feel the human and divine connection we share with them and with all Christians everywhere. You can contemplate those you know who await you there, and you can wonder at the particular joys in which they worship the Light of lights.
You and I can determine to join them in hope, faith and love of Jesus our King and Brother. We can rejoice with them, even for them. We can live in the hope which they now experience as reality itself.
So a Happy beginning of the Christmas Season to all of the Internet Monk family. The darkness of Advent yields. Christ is born and he will gather together, like a shepherd, all those who are his, and bring them together “upon another shore and in a greater light.”
Holy Father, We praise you for glimpses of the completed work of your Son; glimpses that include many we love and long to see again; glimpses we pray include ourselves and our children. May we live in the one enduring light, even in a time of great darkness. May our ultimate celebration of life’s greatest gifts be on another shore with those who now, in a greater light, beckon and encourage us onward and home. Make these days of Christmas filled with Christ himself, and may our enduring, ever-increasing hope in him be our path through this world and these times. For your mercy to bring to yourself all those who hoped in the Word made flesh, we give you praise. Shed the light of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we may never despair, but always fight the good fight with faith, hope and love. For Jesus, your Light, your Mercy and your Love, we give you imperfect, but genuine thanks. More of him, less of us, and ultimately, all of yourself. This we pray in Jesus’ name.