Canon Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD
Series 2001 - December
Tidings of a gospel true

The Irvine Tartan  ē My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican





Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
vigil till the morning new
saw the glory, heard the story,
tidings of a gospel true. 

- Infant Holy, Infant Lowly


We have lost the extravagance of Christmas.  The poetry of the evangelists has been supplanted and in its place meanness and gratification have gained the upper ground.

The large star-lit night served as a canopy for the shepherds keeping watch on the Bethlehem hillside.  Gazing up into the heavens, youths entrusted with flocks would tell stories as they stood guard.  Perhaps a ewe was giving birth, or possibly a lamb bleated, stirring in its sleep.  A chilly wind touched a shoulder and a woollen garment was adjusted.  Breath warmed cupped hands briskly rubbed to chase the chill.

The hillside stretched into the black infinity of space and the realm of the shepherds extended to the very edge of creation, and beyond - into an unfathomable blackness.  Punctuating the skyscape, stars twinkled and charmed the youths and ignited their imaginations.  Constellations were recognized and taught and learned and shared stories continued to fill the night.

Eyelids strained, pupils dilated, the stars seemed at once close enough to touch and beyond the reasonable reach of the outstretched arm whose angular fingers joined stars and painted on a black canvass the vivid dreams of hope of the least of society.

Imagine the fear that swept over the lads as glory became perceptibleÖ a host of heaven erupting from the baldachino of the Lordís creation!  Stars now angels and angels now sang, proclaimed, heralded surprising tidings.  Extravagance filled the moment where limitless heaven yielded myriads of angels announcing the news that filled, yes filled! the night.

A birth, a new life, a promise kept caused hopeful hearts to leap.  Given was a whole life, a completed promise without restriction of new beginnings and a new day dawning.  Extravagance that can be held in the hands of a midwife, and that can be cradled and cuddled by a mother.  Extravagance that can be gazed upon in amazement measuring the gift of life that God had promised. 

The promise was more than a babe.  The glory of the babe would find witnesses in Egypt and Nazareth, witnesses by the Jordan and in Jerusalem, witnesses in a Garden and on a Hill.  Extravagance would be measured by the span of a manís arms outstretched, and pinned: arms beckoning to those who would see the extravagance of love and forgiveness to the needful and broken.

And did the dreaming shepherds see this hope lying swaddled and placed on a mattress of hay?  In the serene silence of a babe fed and cleaned, did the shepherds think for a minute what the future would unfold in the decades that lie ahead for this newborn?  Did they anticipate the extravagance of redemption that would stretch as far beyond a young manís years in time as the stars appeared distant to shepherds on a holy night?  Were they able to crouch, and holding a staff to keep their balance, give expression to the marvellous thoughts of new life beheld in their gaze?

They saw not the Messiah.  They saw a child.

They saw not a Cross.  They didnít anticipate a supper at Emmaus.  They saw a child, and in that child they saw the fulfillment of dreams and hopes - their dreams! They saw their hopes!  Extravagance was revealed in a babeís arms stirring and outstretched, reaching for faces and fingers that seemed for the babe as far away as those stars that illumined a Holy Night.

Tidings of a gospel true!

Copyright © 2001 James T. Irvine




Image: The Baldachino Canopy (detail), St Andrewís Cathedral, Aberdeen

Photo: Deborah Irvine-Anderson

Van Goghís Starry Starry Night (detail)


Series 2001

Festivals of Light

penultimate WORD - Festivals of Light Series