Looking forward to Christmas

As the countdown to Christmas accelerates, spend a few quiet moments in the company of Amy Boucher Pye and her artist father, Leo Boucher.

12 December 2021

Celebrating Christmas

Two weeks to go and still question marks hang over our Christmas arrangements. It’s easy for stress and anxiety to creep in. When all our plans remain provisional, our sense of peace can feel fragile. We hope that this week’s article will help to restore a sense of peace and equilibrium, however uncertain our circumstances remain.

It’s an extract from Celebrating Christmas, the stunning hardback gift book in which father and daughter Leo and Amy offer images and words to bring you joy at Christmas: a profound, enduring joy even in the midst of pain, loss, betrayal and disappointment.

Full of vivid memories and family anecdotes, ranging from the glittering lights of Oxford Street to the snowy woods of Minnesota, Celebrating Christmas explores the joys and sorrows of Christmas in a broken world, which is, as the author says, ‘exactly why Jesus came to earth!’

‘Celebrating Christmas explores the joys and sorrows of Christmas in a broken world, which is exactly why Jesus came to earth!’

The light in the darkness

A hush descends as the lights are switched off. The congregation is bubbling with anticipation. A young child says, ‘It’s dark!’ to muted laughter. We watch as the vicar lights the candle held by the person at the end of the row, and they light the candle next to them, and so on. Little glowing circles move down the rows until all the candles are lit and, faces aglow, we marvel at the beauty of light dispelling the darkness.

At the beginning of Advent, our church holds a service with Christingles, a symbol created with oranges and candles in 18th-century Germany to help children understand how Jesus is the light of the world. The flames dotted around the congregation speak of God’s love dwelling in his children through his Spirit and Son, a mystery made possible because Jesus came to earth as a baby.

Light is warming, comforting and heralding, and God as the source of all light is a rich theme in the Bible. Indeed, light is the first thing that God creates in the Genesis account – even before the sun (Genesis 1:3–4). God then reveals himself as a light to his people, such as when he appeared to Moses ‘in flames of fire from within a bush’ (Exodus 3:2) or as a bright cloud or a pillar of fire (see Exodus 13:21–22).

God as the source of all light is a rich theme in the Bible’

In the New Testament, Matthew in his gospel says that Jesus fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy that ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matthew 4:16). We might feel overcome by the darkness around us – the diseases, betrayals and injustices – but God shines his light on us through Jesus.

Similarly, John starts off his gospel with an affirmation of Jesus being the light of life: ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:4–5). We live in a world permeated by darkness, but the black clouds and oppressive sense of nothingness will not win out against the light.

As you take a quiet moment amidst the busyness of the season, ponder the glory and power of light – and of Jesus, the light who has come into the world.

Jesus, you bring light and life. As I yield to you, your presence within me burns away that which is not holy. Help me to welcome your clarifying light, that I might be free of any sin that clings. May your light within be a gentle and welcoming beacon, a signal in these dark times of a safe haven. Amen

Amy is an author, a speaker and a spiritual director. She’s a regular contributor to several devotional publications, including New Daylight and Our Daily Bread, and her books include 7 Ways to Pray and The Living Cross. She loves baking Christmas cookies and working out in body-combat classes.

Leo is a retired data-systems analyst and creator who paints in his art studio. He volunteers with his church and other organisations, including teaching art to seniors at retirement communities.

Visio divina

At the end of Celebrating Christmas Amy describes a form of prayer which uses art as an aid to reflection. Whether you’ve used this method before, or are interested to experiment, it could bring you a rich new experience of prayer and of opening your heart to God. Amy writes:

Visio divina is Latin for ‘divine seeing’. It’s simply a time of gazing at a painting (perhaps one of the images in Celebrating Christmas) and asking God to speak to us through it. Here’s how to do so.

  1. Start with a prayer of invitation. As you welcome God to join you through his Spirit, ask him to calm you with his presence and help you to focus your mind and heart on him. You may wish to breathe deeply a few times to remind yourself how your physical being is connected to your inner being.
  2. Gaze at the painting for a few moments, approaching it slowly. Notice what your eye focuses on, and spend a few moments there. What captures your attention?
  3. As you interact with the images, ask God to speak to you. Might you sense a refrain from a song, a verse from Scripture, God’s still, small voice? Don’t strain for any of these ways God might speak to you but keep yourself open and ready to hear. For instance, God might touch your feelings or impress your thoughts with a new insight.
  4. Respond to God through prayers of praise, intercession, adoration, petition, and so on. You may have moved away from the images in the painting, or not. Feel free to go where the Spirit leads.
  5. Rest in God’s presence, giving thanks for his love.
  6. You could note in your journal, if you keep one, any insights you received or impressions you had during your time of prayer for consideration later.

A prayer for Advent 3

Written by Martyn Payne, especially for this Sunday, the third in Advent. Often referred to as Gaudete Sunday, the readings for today focus on the theme of Christian joy.

Loving God,
you see our pain and feel our sadness;
you share our sorrow and bear our burdens;
and yet you also long that our joy might be complete.
Help us to rejoice at your coming this Advent
which brings joy to the world,
because the darkness is ending;
so that now, with joy, we may draw water
from the wells of salvation,
which is found in Christ Jesus, our Lord.