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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Love came down at Christmas

The ‘Love’ mosaic that has been hanging at the East End of the St John’s Seven Kings for the past couple of years came down in last night’s winds. It is undamaged and can go back in place when the weather improves but, for now, it is a reminder to us that love came down at Christmas.

Christina Rossetti’s wonderful carol, from which that phrase comes, focuses on the Christ-child as the ultimate expression of love:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Through these words, she reminds us firstly that God is love. As the Apostle John wrote, “God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven” (1 John 4. 9 & 10). And, again, “This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us (1 John 3. 16).”

But Rossetti also reminds us that the incarnation, God become human, is as much a sign of love for us as is Christ’s crucifixion. This is what she means by that marvellous phrase “Love came down at Christmas”.

But what does it mean that love came down? When I run Quiet Days on everyday prayer, I often use a prayer by David Adam which provides a clear answer to this question.

Escalator prayer

As I ascend this stair
I pray for all who are in despair

All who have been betrayed
All who are dismayed
All who are distressed
All who feel depressed
All ill and in pain
All who are driven insane
All whose hope has flown
All who are alone
All homeless on the street
All who with danger meet

Lord, who came down to share our plight
Lift them into your love and light

(David Adam, PowerLines: Celtic Prayers about Work, Triangle, 1992)

This prayer uses the imagery of descending and ascending an escalator to pray that those at the bottom of the descent will be understood and ministered to before being then raised up themselves. The prayer is based on the understanding that, through his incarnation and nativity, Christ comes into the messiness of human life, as a human being, to experience all that we experience for himself. The betrayals, dismay, distress, depression, illness, pain, insanity, loss of hope, loneliness, homelessness, danger and despair that many of us experience at periods in our lives and which some experience as their everyday life. Christ comes to understand all this and to bear it on his shoulders to God, through his death on the cross, in order that, like him, we too can rise to new life and ascend to the life of God himself. “Lord, who came down to share our plight / Lift them into your love and light.” This is the hope held out to us through the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; that he was born into poverty, exile, danger, stigma for our sake, in order to reach out to and rescue us.

God, in Jesus, “had to become like his people in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people's sins would be forgiven. And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered” (Hebrews 2. 17 & 18). “... we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God — Jesus, the Son of God. Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us have confidence, then, and approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it” (Hebrews 4. 14 – 16).

This is the wonderful result of love coming down at Christmas - of Christ’s nativity and incarnation – we can have confidence to “approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.” Lord, who came down to share our plight, lift us all into your love and light.


John Rutter - Love Came Down At Christmas.

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