Stanwick Group of Churches

December 2017

Last summer, before we moved, it was wonderful to hear the news of a new baby grandchild due on Christmas Day. I often wonder how mum and baby are getting on. By all accounts the new mum had been having a very rough time with morning sickness.

As Christmas comes round each year I sometimes wonder how pregnancy was for Mary. On top of the huge challenge of breaking the news of her unexpected pregnancy, did she have to contend with sickness and exhaustion?

And as she sat cradling her newborn child, did she feel thoroughly overwhelmed by the new experience of motherhood. Was she troubled by a baby Jesus who wouldn’t ‘latch on’ or who screamed with colic? Did she ever feel anxious or tearful?

Parenting a newborn baby is one of the greatest joys and privileges that life can ever bring, but it can also be incredibly challenging. At Christmas time it’s good to remember not only those expecting babies and giving birth, but to thank God for the wonderful work of midwives, health visitors and nursery nurses and other health practitioners who offer such vital support to families.

A few days on from Christmas and we come to another day in the church’s calendar which often gets passed by: The Holy Innocents. This year it happens to fall on a Thursday when we have our midweek communion at Aldbrough, and so we will be marking it. Since I became a mother I can hardly bear to think of the Holy Innocents or sing the Medieval Coventry Carol and the chilling words which tell of the murderous King Herod who ‘in his raging’ gave the order ‘all younge children to slay’.  Jesus escaped to Egypt with Mary and Joseph, but this continuation of the Christmas story reminds us of the nightmare that so many other parents faced then and sadly now too.

For those who have lost loved ones Christmas time can be especially painful, and my heart goes out to all parents who have lost a child, a baby, a tiny dear new life. Thankfully in this country there are some wonderful charities and organisations offering support to grieving parents such as the Sands Charity, Child Bereavement UK and the Lullaby Trust.

Last year I spent some time talking with a mother who lost a baby forty years ago. She very bravely went to a ‘Saying Goodbye’ service at Bradford Cathedral organised by another baby loss charity, the Mariposa Trust. She was deeply moved by the experience of lighting a candle for the baby that had died in her womb and who she never saw or held. For the first time ever she had publicly acknowledged her loss, and said out loud her child’s name which had been kept secret in her heart all these years. She said it was the first time she’d ever allowed herself to truly grieve. As we shared her story a favourite verse from Isaiah sprang to mind, a verse which tells of how we are inscribed upon the very hands of God, forever known, forever special to, forever remembered by God: “Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you…….See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49.15-16)

Over recent years it has started to become more popular for churches to have prayer trees, and at Christmas, a special Christmas tree where people can hang a bauble or write the name of a lost loved one on a star to remember them by. This year we are having a Christmas Tree Festival at St James’, Melsonby, and one of the trees will be a special tree for remembering loved ones, whether a recent bereavement or someone you lost a long time ago. In our own homes too it may be that we have special decorations to remember special people and special occasions.

Whatever the pagan origins of the Christmas tree may be, I think this evergreen can be a tremendous symbol of the Christian hope of eternal life, filled with light and angels, decorated with love, and its branches pointing heavenward. And to this we can add symbols of our own precious people and memories, all held together in the everlasting arms of God, shining, transformed in Christ’s beautiful love and light. A mystery alluded to in the final verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’:

Not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by,
We shall see him but in heaven, set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars his children crowned, all in white shall wait around.

May God bless you and your precious ones with hope, healing, and love this Christmas.


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