“The flowers and candles are here to protect us…” This was a dawning realisation expressed by a young Parisian immigrant child in conversation with his father, an exchange captured in a short You-Tube interview taking place amid the crowds in the Place de la Republique on the day after the terrorist attack a few weeks ago in November. (The film clip is available to view on St Oswald’s Facebook page, and I recommend you have a look at it when and if you have a quiet moment in the post-Christmas lull). As the interviewer gently asks the child whether he understands what has happened, the four year old boy, held in the arms of his father, is acutely anxious about the “very, very bad people with guns” who were threatening to kill everyone, and about his family possibly having to leave their home in order to escape the violence. His father tenderly but hastily reassures him that they don’t need to move house, because “France is our home”. When the child then whispers, “But what about the bad men with guns, papa?”, his father does not sugar-coat the pill, simply repeating softly in sadness, “There are bad people everywhere…”
Then, in an inspired moment, the father points out to the child, still very worried about the bad men with guns, “They might have guns, but we have flowers! ” The child looks back over his shoulder, but clearly needs some convincing about the validity of this statement. Frowning, he stammers out, “But, but, flowers don’t do anything!?” He’s lost for words. His father immediately replies, “Of course they do! Look, everyone is putting flowers over there. It’s to fight against guns.” “To protect..?” asks the child. He is silent for a moment, then asks, “And the candles?” “The candles are to remember the people who are gone,” says his father. Another moment of thoughtful contemplation follows, and then the child turns directly to the interviewer and unexpectedly says, quietly and confidently, “The flowers and candles are here to protect us.” His father quickly whispers, “Yes!” And there is a beautiful exchange of a slow, shy smile between the two of them. The interviewer asks the child, “Do you feel better now?” And the little boy says, “Yes, I feel better.” He turns his small trusting face back to gaze on the candles and the flowers, which suddenly have kindled a fragile but blossoming hope within his fearful young heart.
That small boy, I think, speaks for many of us, adults, teenagers and children alike, when faced with dreadful situations shown daily on our television screens from across the world. Or when we encounter in our everyday lives difficult or distressing things much closer to home, in our families, workplaces, schools or local communities. We often have to be helped by others to find any glimmer of light in those dark places, whether in our inner being or in the complex world around us, or else we might otherwise stumble and fall. We all, at some time or other, need the encouragement of other people who care about us, to get us through and to help us see more clearly the bigger picture. This Christmas, many of us venture in through the open doors of our local churches, to find inside a light to help guide us in our common human search for making sense of things and for “feeling better” about it all… Lit by the candles of hopefulness and surrounded by the flowers of faith, even those held in tentative fingers by our companions gathered here tonight, I pray you will discover here your feet returning afresh to a well-trodden path which leads you into the light and tries to make some better sense of the confusions and sadnesses of our world.
Another short film-clip on our Facebook page features the simple yet profoundly wondering lyrics of the song “Mary, did you know?” sung by an A Cappella group called Pentatonix. This too is well worth listening to. The words echo those of the prophets as found in the Book of Isaiah from ancient days, and the song also picks up on Jesus’ own sense of his calling and purpose in life as we can hear later on in Luke’s Gospel, when as an adult Jesus stands up to read from the sacred scroll in the synagogue. The words of the song go like this:
Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know That your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand? Did you know That your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod? When you kissed your little Baby, you kissed the face of God?
The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak the praises of The Lamb.
Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know That your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? The sleeping child you’re holding, is the great I AM!
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
(Some of the imagery here, strange to us but familiar to the ancient Hebrew people, is of a sacrificial lamb given up to enable restoration and reconciliation with one another and with the mysterious God whose name was almost too sacred to speak aloud…)
That same God, the one who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, may be glimpsed here tonight amidst the busyness and crowdedness of our everyday existence. That same God waits for us to enter into honest conversation with him, as (like the best of parents) he holds us tenderly, and desires to protect us from all that otherwise would harm us.
Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God, was born as a vulnerable questioning child into our dangerous and violent but also beautiful world, to show us the better way of truth, kindness, compassion, co-operation, courage and peace, and somehow, mysteriously, revealed to be in himself the Light and Hope that will ultimately lead all human beings safely home to God in heaven.
May we once again find ourselves just as awestruck as no doubt Mary was that first Christmas night, daring to recognise here God in Christ placed into our own hands, in the ordinariness of bread, broken for us, fragmented and shared out. May we glimpse God’s renewed purposes for our lives as, mysteriously through this Holy Communion, we find integrity and wholeness, both within and between us.
May the holy angels and all God’s saints, living and departed, remain our joyful companions as we go out from here, restored and refreshed for our different journeys through this often troublous life, and may God bless each one of us, friend and stranger alike, with true peace and heart-felt hope, this Christmas and always. Amen.