Prayer alert

I have finished writing the prayer intentions for January and February (hooray)!  These intentions or petitions are part of the daily life of prayer in the Summertown parish. At morning prayer (9.30am), we remember the saints of God when they appear on the liturgical calendar but we also call to mind a specific person, event or issue which needs prayer. Finally, each day we pray for a road in the parish, asking for God’s blessing to rain down upon the residents of that place. These areas of prayer become our daily starting point, we carry them with us during the silence, the activity and business of our every day.

It seems to me that the run-up to Christmas (the penitential season of Advent) seems to lack silence and stillness and is overwrought with activity and commercial pressure! I heard a helpful reflection on the radio this week differentiating the different elements of Christmas. It comes in three parts – the pagan festival, the Victorian folklore and the consumerist makeover. Early Romans used evergreens to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia, evergreens representing  fertility and new life in the darkness of winter. The Victorians went further, they not only decorated the tree, they poured tinsel on the whole of the Christmas story. Christmas today is a shopping-fest from Black Friday and Cyber Monday to the Boxing Day and New Years sales. All of these Christmases are alive and kicking but none address the reality of God’s home-making with the birth of an infant into a vulnerable, middle-eastern Jewish family.

This illustration of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their children around a Christmas tree featured in the Illustrated London News in 1848.

The sugar-coated story deserves a theological treatment in order to uncover something of the truth. The infancy narrative involves political scheming and power plays. We don’t even know whether Luke’s account of the decree ordered at the time of King Herod by Caesar Augustus and overseen by Quirinius, governor of Syria was credible. Many biblical commentators question the validity of this census and its dating.  Whatever the academic ambiguities and irregularities of the Lukan account, we are presented with an artisan family (not yet betrothed) seeking hospitality after an uncomfortable journey. They cannot find accommodation (“it was Christmas, after all” – says one wag!). Strangers in a small but busy town  needing to find a safe, clean space for the birth. No hospitals, just an upper room, a place where animals were kept and fed. This family were immediately joined by local workers – shepherds – who had little status and privilege. The family were forced to leave their resting place as a result of a declaration of hate from the King. It seems the massacre of the innocents was an historic event. The holy family had to leave their homeland and seek asylum in Egypt. Strangers in a strange land.

So, perhaps our prayer intentions are already laid out for us this Christmas: pray for those who are oppressed by political regimes; pray for those who have been displaced as a result of their heritage; pray for those who are desperate for medical attention; pray for those who have neither food nor shelter; pray for those who are foreigners without a welcome. Pray for refugees and asylum seekers. Pray for newborn babies and their mothers. Finally, pray for the people whom you know who feel that life is against them. Pray this Christmas that they may feel God’s closer presence, enfranchised to a God who strived to set up a home but was continually rejected and scorned. My prayerful message to the one who reads this blog is to stand resilient beside the child who cries for you and with you.

May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

Christmas Eve services (Advent 4): 8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist; 4.00pm Crib Service; 11.30pm Midnight Mass.

Christmas Day services: 8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! Click here to find out more.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.