I was reminded of a story the other day, a story that seemed to be fitting for the December edition of the Magazine in which we will read news of the various Christmas events and services. This was the story:-
There was once a monastery whose buildings had been filled for many years with monks both young and old. People used to flock to the monastery from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer, the worship and the warm welcome and hospitality offered by the community. But over the years, the numbers diminished leaving only a very small number of older monks shuffling about their business, day by day becoming increasingly despondent and dispirited. In the woods nearby, there was a small hut which a wise old rabbi used as a hermitage. The abbot decided to visit the rabbi to see what advice he could offer that might restore the monastery to its former glory. The rabbi greeted the abbot with arms outstretched in welcome and listened carefully to what the abbot had to say. After a while, he said “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts and you have come to me for wisdom. I will give you advice on one condition: when I tell you what I have to say, you must promise me to repeat it only once. After that, no-one must say it aloud again.’ The abbot agreed and listened carefully as the rabbi looked at him and said these words – “The Messiah is among you”.
The Abbot left, pondering these words, and the next morning convened a meeting with the monks. He described his visit to the rabbi and told them of the condition the rabbi had put on his teaching. Looking each of them in the eye he told them of the rabbi’s words “The Messiah is among you”. The monks looked around. Who could it be? Might it be Brother Thomas, or perhaps Brother John or Father Matthew? Or could it be that I am the Messiah? They were all deeply puzzled, but no-one mentioned it again.
As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle and generous spirit amongst them which was hard to describe but easy to notice. They lived with one another as people who had finally discovered something profound. Visitors found themselves deeply moved by the lives of these monks and before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the love they found in this community and to be transformed by the prayers. Slowly but surely the community grew, going from strength to strength until it surpassed its former glory.
In churches everywhere over the Christmas season we will hear the narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ in which an angel of the Lord reminds Joseph of the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’”. ‘Emmanuel’ – the Hebrew word meaning ‘God with us’, a reminder that this is God himself who came to dwell amongst us, bringing new life and new hope.
As we celebrate this Christmas, let us look for Christ in our midst, let us welcome Him into our gatherings, let us learn to be like Christ to others through our actions and in our conversations and may our lives, our homes and our communities be transformed by His love.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Wishing you every blessing this Christmas time.
The Reverend Sheila Cox (Rector of G7 Benefice)