Moving into yet another year (88)

Sonnet 73 - William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.


We hear these days of Christmas that Jesus, Mary and Joseph became refugees in Egypt because Herod was anxious about them disturbing his rule. Are there modern echoes?

They were refugees for a time, of course, but in very different conditions.
1. There were no borders as such back then.
2  No passports.
3. No such thing as being able to claim legal asylum.
4. No welfare state to make claims on.
5. There was very rarely if ever citizenship per se to lay claim to.
6. The Holy Family went home after the danger was passed which used to be the norm for refugees, except perhaps in WW2.

So I think when we speak of Jesus, Mary and Joseph becoming refugees we should be careful to distinguish between what that entailed then compared with now.


At this Christmas time I suppose I should be reflecting on what Christmas means. The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. But Christ is only one Person.
I can't pretend to understand the Incarnation in some kind of analytical or abstract way. I can only understand it in some kind of experiential way. I know what it means because I resonate with it in myself. Whatever meaning it has for me comes from a deep level of my sense of my own reality.
What is true in Jesus is true in me! I could never claim this intellectually if I did not sense it intuitively.


Yesterday was the feast day of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen. The last century has seen more Christians killed in the name of their faith than any of the 19 that went before it. Some Governments care a bit about this. Ours barely pays lip service.

I wonder would my own weak faith be able to rise to the challenge?


One of Ireland’s unique and darker traditions, celebrated on December 26th, relates to killing a small bird in revenge for betraying St Stephen the first Christian martyr.

The wren is considered the ‘King of the Birds’ and is also associated with the old year. It was said that capturing the bird alive would herald in a new and prosperous year. As the king of the birds the wren occupied a prominent position in the druidic pagan religion. “Hunting the Wren” is an Irish tradition that is believed to pre-date Christian times. It sounds pretty cruel, where basically the tiny bird is captured, killed and tied to a pole. Local musicians and dancers would then dress in garish disguises and go house to house collecting money, food and drink for a party. Woe betide the house that did not donate to the cause!

"The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,                    
St. Stephens’s day, he was caught in the furze.              

Although he is little, his honour is great,
Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.
We followed this Wren ten miles or more
Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,
We up with our wattles and gave him a fall
And brought him here to show you all.
For we are the boys that came your way
To bury the Wren on Saint Stephens’s Day,
So up with the kettle and down with the pan!
Give us some help for to bury the Wren."

Nowadays, a more humane Wren Boys is still practiced in mainly rural areas. They don’t kill the wren anymore, thank goodness. The tradition consists of “hunting” a fake wren, and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Crowds of mummers or strawboys celebrate the wren by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colourful motley clothing and, accompanied by céilí music bands, parade through the towns and villages. A celebration is still held around the decorated pole and the money that is collected from the townspeople is now donated to a school or charity.


Song of Songs 2:8-14

Listen! My beloved! Look!
Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.

See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

What is a beautiful love poem like this doing in the Christian Bible?
Yet there it was in yesterday morning's liturgy.
It certainly celebrates faithful human love.

Vatican Nativity Scene 2019

This year's Nativity Scene in St. Peter's Square comes from Scurelle in the province of Trento, in Northern Italy, while the 26 metre high spruce tree comes from Rotzo in the province of Vicenza.
The Nativity Scene, which has been made in the Trentino tradition, is said to contain 20 life-sized figures.
Both the tree and the crib are linked to a storm which hit many areas of Triveneto in Italy in October and November of last year.