Most of you will know that a small section of one of our stained-glass windows in Church has been featured in the Royal Mail’s Christmas stamp collection. You can see the stamp and the window on page 17 in this issue. For me, it’s a window of opportunity for my Christmas letter!
Windows convey the light into what would otherwise be dark places. Individual panels in a large window are known as ‘lights’. Stained glass windows, with biblical scenes and stories, not only convey physical light but also spiritual light. And we are called to be lights to the world, now more than ever, bearers of light into the dark.
The nativity window in our South Transept has been lighting up the inner darkness since 1862. Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen a burst of sunshine bring it dramatically to life when a magnificent array of colour pours through into Church. Occasionally that happens in a service and it is magical.
The artist made no attempt to make the characters in the story realistic, only beautiful. Mary, with lovely yellow hair, is dressed in fine flowing robes like a wealthy lady or a queen. And the baby Jesus is an exquisite mini-person whose body language suggests he could be preaching the sermon! Both are very ‘white’ and non-Middle Eastern. The shepherds (not pictured on the stamp) are also very white and richly dressed, hardly reflecting their lowly social position in Palestine. And the magi of the bible have become 3 kings.
And yet I don’t think many people will have been questioning the realism, but will rather have been admiring the beauty of the window. And will have been ‘re-membering’, as we are today, the familiar story they know so well from the bible.
Perhaps it’s right that Mary and Jesus look smart and beautiful, representing the beauty in them and in so many people who are outwardly poor and vulnerable, but to whom belong the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20). It may help us glimpse the present reality and the future promise that God has lifted up the humble, as Mary proclaims in her song of praise to God (Luke 1:52).
The windows in this particular corner of Church not only tell the story of the birth of Jesus, but also of his death and resurrection, making it a wonderful place to go and contemplate Jesus at the centre of everything. And to allow the word of God to take flesh in our own heart.
You may have heard a brief radio interview I did on Radio Leeds one morning recently before I woke up properly. What I didn’t get a chance to say was: the window speaks to me of beauty and vulnerability.
This is a time when so many of us all around the world are feeling our own vulnerability, and that of dearly loved family and friends. We fear for the increased vulnerability of those near and far away who are ‘on the front line’ or have few resources, or both. And we fear that so much of the goodness we know in the world is vulnerable to dark vested interests and powers (Ephesians 6:12).
So in this context, it is immensely telling, and hopeful, that the whole of history pivots precariously on this one vulnerable child in whom God shares and embraces our human vulnerability, and who will die at the hands of powerful vested interests. But it will turn out to be a victory not a defeat. And so we are invited to embrace our vulnerability and trust the loving purposes of God who, in the midst of a troubled world, offers us peace in Jesus.
Beauty? God, the artist, sees the beauty in you and me. He asks us to see it in others too. We don’t have to pretend we’re anything other than faulty works in progress, but like any loving parent God is determined to paint us as beautiful and show off our good points! So let the light shine through! You are loved and treasured.
If you’re like me, the window might need a bit of cleaning, but no better time to do it than in Advent.
Christmas will indeed be different, but fuller than ever of good news. Including you and I letting our light shine and (with the angels) glorifying God.
Have a wonderful and happy Christmas.
With my love and prayers.