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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Joy, not jollity, when all is bleak

Fascinating tweet yesterday from London vicar (and Guardian columnist) Giles Fraser: "Blue Christmas" service for those who hate too much up-beatness. 21/12, 7.30pm St Peter's Vauxhall. In the bleak midwinter. No mince pies. Bleak. A word, thanks to Christina Rossetti, very much part of our Christmas vocabulary and yet a word which refuses to conform to this festive season. Bleak. sbare, desolate, and often windswept: scold and piercing; raw: swithout hope or encouragement; depressing; dreary: “The word that echoes back to me from all quarters is bleak,” bemoans a character in a short story by Frank Moorhouse. “What does it mean, bleak? A word that belongs to the winter landscape yet has somehow become attached to me.” But the Christmas message is for a bleak world. That’s why we celebrate the incarnation in the middle of winter, at the bleakest time of the year, in temperatures usually far below the 10.5°C my weather station is showing at the moment. For if the Biblical narrative does suggests any time of year it’s spring, the lambing season. But the message of the angels is given to a bleak world, bare, desolate and often windswept, to shepherds huddled with their sheep, to those on the very margins of our society. As the prophet Isaiah could foresee: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.: (Isaiah 9:2) And it a message of great joy for all people, for every individual how deep their darkness, however bleak their outlook. It is especially for those who feel no great need to be jolly. Hence the Christmas service at St Peter’s Vauxhall where there are no mince pies. For it goes without saying that there are more than a few people for whom Christmas is an ordeal. It could be through a bereavement, recent or otherwise. It could simply be that we have been bashed about by life. Whatever, the whole message of Christmas is directed to those who find life bleak, to those who feel no affinity to the standard Christmas schedule. For the gift of Jesus is truly good news. Here we may enjoy God’s astonishing love; here we may experience his total commitment to us in our austerity. And the deepest joy, the clearest wonder is for those who are only too aware of their need. “Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.” (Lucinda Franks) As Rossetti herself celebrates: "Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine; Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign."

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