One of the things that inevitably happens during this season is exhaustion from frantic over-scheduling and errands, and while it would be convenient to blame this wholly on secular society, I fear that many Christian churches, with all their Christmas programs etc., may also lurk behind this desert-like paucity of contemplative space. I have been feeling this, and it reminded me of Simeon’s prayer after he has seen the Christ, the Messiah he has waited for his whole life: “Lord, now may your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” I thought of this passage because the promise of departing in peace is particularly attractive in the midst of the current frantic hubbub. Indeed, it would seem that the compilers of the Book of Common Prayer thought so as well, as this prayer is included in Compline, the set of prayers one prays before bed; its inclusion signifies that it is not simply a prayer for those about to die, but also those about to undertake that smaller type of death, sleep. I have done much academic work on the Christian ars moriendi (art of dying well), but I have never before been struck by the way this might also apply to the way we end each day. What is particularly significant for me at the moment is how much the act of resting in peace depends on the recognition that it is Christ rather than us who brings about salvation for the world — we are witnesses, and witnesses who testify, but the burden of the world’s salvation is on God’s shoulders, not ours. This allows us to trust in the goodness of God rather than running around frantically trying to facilitate everything ourselves; I think sometimes we get so busy trying to save the world that we forget God has already done so.
For the next 23 days, I will be posting reflections on Christmas and Christmas culture as a way of counting down Advent. My posts will orbit about two themes: the primary reason for Christmas, the coming of Immanuel (God with us); and the odd and bizarre way that Christmas culture relates to this advent. These posts are informed by G.K. Chesterton’s analysis of Christmas and Dickens. See Chesterton on Christmas in my notes, from his biography of Dickens.
Next in the series: Christmas with Dido