Another shore, a greater light
Somehow we have arrived at Christmas Eve! Whether this year you are having a “Magi-Christmas” (everything planned way in advance) or a “Shepherd-Christmas” (a joyful scramble to the manger-side at the last minute) I hope you find peace and hope in this great celebration of love incarnate.
For me, as for many others, 3pm this afternoon will be sacrosanct as I tune into Radio 4 for the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. For 90 minutes the readings from Old and New Testaments and the pieces sung by those angelic voices will stir my soul and lift my mind to the great truths of this season. It is a tradition I relish.
Christmas is a time of powerful memory and I know that a part of my attachment to the King’s College broadcast is because my father loved it greatly, and so we grew up knowing this was something very special and we had to be quiet! I am thankful to him for introducing me to such beauty and truth from my earliest days.
When Christmas came round in 1994, Andrew, Tim, Peter and I had been in the Caribbean for just eleven months as Mission Partners in Chateaubelair, St. Vincent. December felt very strange as we prepared for Christmas without many of the usual signs of the season. Certainly no frost or snow, although we did have poinsettias in abundance – growing in their native setting, as hedges along the roadsides.
My parents came out to share the month of December with us, bringing packets of stuffing, a Christmas pudding, mincemeat (and even sausages!!) and these helped to temper our home-sickness – we all look reasonably happy and well-fed in this photo from Christmas Day!
The day before, at 11am on Christmas Eve (3pm back in Cambridge) we turned on the radio… to listen to crackle, static, gremlins and just the occasional bar of music or snatch of prophecy! For quite a while Andrew held the short-wave radio at arm’s length out of the window for a slightly improved signal, but it was pretty hopeless! (These were the days before internet of course.) Then the bar across the road started playing very loud music to celebrate the season, and we had to surrender Cambridge to the Calypso!
My favourite line of the whole service is not the trembling treble of “Once in Royal David’s City”, spine-tingling though that can be, but rather a line from the opening prayer. In it, we are called to “Remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light… whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one for evermore.”
Three of those in the photo above are on that other shore now, but are very present in my mind today – and there are so many others too, for me and for you. One day, that greater light will break upon us all.