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Every year McCaw Funeral Service of Lloydminster has a memorial service to which they invite family members who have lost a loved one in the preceding year.  In 2013, it was held on December 7, and Canon Michael was asked to give the message, which appears below:

Message – Christmas Memorial Service – December 7, 2013

There is probably no time of year quite like Christmas and the period surrounding it.  There is the hectic pace of buying and entertaining and attending events.  There is the insistent wear and tear on both one’s pocketbook and one’s mental and emotional wellbeing.  There are the deep and lasting spiritual impacts.  There are the festive and joyful times with family and friends.  But, there are also the memories, the memories of days past and of loved ones now departed this life.  This then makes this time into something of a bittersweet experience.  I am sure that it is this way for all of us in one way or another.

I know for me, it hits me on a number of levels.  All of my parents and grandparents are gone from this world, and, as a divorced person, so is any resemblance of a normal family life.  And, to make it even harder, our sons are now grown up and, for perhaps the first time this year, are mostly going to be away at Christmas.  So, Christmas this year, is to put it mildly, going to be rather ‘interesting.’

That said, I have found something that is of a great help.  One of my favorite book titles is one by the noted American author, Phillip Yancey.  The book title is “Where Is God When It Hurts,” and it addresses the recurrent issue of where God fits into all of this.  Where is God when it comes to those times of loss and hurt, and loneliness and difficulty, which we all experience — but that we experience all the more at this time of the year?

My discovery, and that of Yancey too, is that God is right here, right here with us, in both our joys and our sorrows.  In becoming flesh (as John states), He took up His residence here on earth with us.  In fact, the word ‘dwelt’ (as it is rendered in some translations) literally means ‘to set up tent.’  So, it is as if God has set up tent in the front yards of our lives, not in some a nice warm permanent dwelling, but in a cold drafty impermanent ‘tent’.  In other words, God knows what it is like when our lives seem dark and forbidding.  And that is exactly what we find illustrated in the life of Jesus.  He knew hunger, thirst, fatigue, loss, disappointment, frustration, pain, betrayal, and temptation — in fact, all of the things that we experience.  But, He has done more than just experience them; He actually stands along side us as we experience them, and experiences them along with us.

And old story puts this oh so well.  A certain pastor many years ago ran a home for orphaned and disadvantaged children.  At Christmas time the more lucky ones (the ones that had homes or family to go home to) got to join loved ones, friends or family, for the Christmas festivities.  But for those left behind, it was particularly difficult, for every aspect of the season reminded them that they were alone.  Perhaps of all the neglected children, it was worst for Tommy, for he had no one at all on this earth outside of this institution who knew him and cared for him.

On this particular Christmas Eve, nothing would move him from his selected place of refuge where he had crawled way under his bed.  The pastor spoke to him of the wonderful meal that awaited him, the Christmas tree and its presents (some of which were actually for him), the Christmas carols and games, and much more besides.  But the little boy remained stubbornly in his place under that bed.

Finally, the pastor, knowing of nothing else that he could (apart from dragging the boy out, which could be even more devastating for him), stooped down low and crawled in beside him.  And so there pastor and boy lay, side by side amid the dust bunnies and cobwebs.  The two of them lay there silently, side by side, unmoving, and saying not a word — getting not only dusty, and stiff and sore, but also increasingly cold.

Eventually, however, something happened.  The pastor felt an ice-cold hand grope for his and then tenaciously hold on to it.  A short time later, that pastor felt that he might be able to say something.  “Well, Tommy”, he said, “It’s pretty cold and cramped in here.  What would you say if we crawled out and stood up beside the bed, so we can have more room?”  It was done, and the boy found his way back to Christmas.

To me, this is a vivid portrayal of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  He has joined us where we are, by crawling into the dusty, cold under-bed spaces of our lives, the places of our loneliness and loss and frustration — and simply being there with us.  And helping us thereby to know that He understands, that He loves, that He cares.  And, like the pastor and Tommy, He awaits the cold, clammy hand of our response, as we decide to accept His love and His presence — not just for this time and place, but also for always and everywhere.

Some of the Scenes of Christmas
at St. John’s Minster

A Christmas Pageant – The Legend of the Christmas Rose

(December 15, 2013)

[#88 – “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”]

Narrator - The Prologue

Never had Madelon seen it so very cold, and so very dark.   Madelon herself was very cold, for her family was poor and she had but a few rags to wear and she was outside on the bare hillside.

Her mother was off at some rich person’s house, cleaning and cooking, and her father was doing some chores for them, so Madelon was left tending the sheep.  Not sheep of their own, oh no, for they were too poor to own anything as valuable as sheep.

Cold as she was, Madelon was also rather sad, for the other children of the village of Assisi had been invited to take part in a little play that their friend Francis had put together.  It was going to be a nativity play, with real animals and the children as actors.  It was Francis’ idea to help the villagers imagine what Jesus’ birth had been like.   And it was going to take place on a hillside not very far from where Madelon looked after the sheep.

And not only had the other children been invited to play the parts of shepherds, angels, wise men, and even Mary and Joseph, they had also been given gifts to bring to the Christ Child.  But Madelon was not invited.  Besides, she was poor and had no gift to bring.

[#118 – “O Come, All Ye Faithful”]

The Nativity Play - Christmas Eve

Now it was time for the nativity play, and Madelon could plainly see how it unfolded.

There was a rude shelter, a stable, to which Mary and Joseph had resorted for some small bit of shelter.  And there it was, that Jesus had been born.  Madelon could see them there, with the baby nestled in the manger, the cow trough, fast asleep.

[#123 – “Once in Royal David’s City”]

(Mary and Joseph proceed to the manger, and ‘finding’ Jesus, place Him within it.)

But God did not want the birth of His Son to go unnoticed and unheralded, so He sent some angels to announce the Good News.  Yes, now Madelon could see the children coming, dressed in white, and sporting haloes and wings.  They had brought Jesus the gift of their music, the gift of their praises.

[#138 – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”]

(The angels enter and stand behind the Holy Family.)

Presently there came some visitors.  Yes, they were some of the other children, playing the part of shepherds.  And they were bearing gifts.  One had a loaf of bread, one a brick of smelly cheese, one a bag of dried fruit, and one a warm, furry, cuddly sheepskin.  And lo, one of the children was even carrying a lamb.  How Madelon wished that she could have taken part, and brought her own gift.

[#137 – “What Child Is This?”]

(The shepherds slowly enter and group themselves to the right and left of Jesus and His parents.)

But that was not all.  Soon there came other children, dressed rather majestically as wise men.  And they were bearing even more splendid gifts, things that Madelon had scarcely even heard of—gold and frankincense and myrrh.  Wonderful gifts.  And Madelon felt even more sad that she had nothing at all to bring.  No, not even something as simple as a toy or a flower or something simple like that.

[#160 – As With Gladness Men of Old”]

(The wise men come, and bow before the Christ Child, and lay their gifts at His feet, and then stand to the side as well.)

Madelon took all this in, and, before she even realized it, she was crying.  She felt so sad, that her abundant tears fell and melted the snow around her.  But, as she dried her eyes, she saw something rather surprising.  Where her tears had fallen, there was now a plant bearing lovely white flowers—yes, even in the midst of the wintry cold.  Why, she thought, an angel must have done this.  Or maybe Jesus Himself.  Madelon immediately brightened, for now at last, she did have something to bring.  So she picked one of the delightful flowers to take to Jesus.

(Madelon takes one of the white blooms and coming up to the manger places it inside, right along the baby.)

[#122 – “In the Bleak Mid Winter”]

As she stood there, Madelon had a thought.  Maybe it was from God, she didn’t know.  But the thought was this: all of the others had given materially, and out of their abundance.  She had given out of her poverty and had given all she had.  She had given herself.  And that, Jesus seemed to be saying, was the best gift of all!

[#153 – “Good Christians All, Rejoice”]