A September stay in the Lake District with friends was a true joy after prolonged COVID restrictions. Anne and I had not returned to the area since a two-week youth hostelling adventure, as teenagers, over sixty years ago . On that occasion we walked daily between hostels, taking the designated paths rather than roads, usually over challenging terrain, capitalising on youthful energy, determination and enthusiasm. A particular and rather scary memory was negotiating Striding Edge (not a description casually applied!) when mist unexpectedly descended! This time we journeyed more sedately by car, supplemented by the occasional bus, in keeping with our physical maturity and reduced energy capacities! Every day was a delight but the highlight was a truly memorable trek by bus from Keswick to Buttermere Lake, our favourite niche from the earlier adventure. It was a surprisingly warm, sunny day and the complete absence of breeze rendered the surface of the lake as still and smooth as a mirror, thereby reflecting perfectly the sky above. It really did seem that the sky had descended to earth, the heavenly visiting the earthly, yet preserving the integrity of both. Perhaps even the heavenly infusing the earthly. A truly stunning vista! And, of course an arresting spiritual metaphor.
We are now in the season of Advent, to be swiftly followed by Christmas when we are encouraged to reflect, through both anticipation and the search for deep meaning, upon that which C.S. Lewis referred to as “The Grand Miracle’, the miracle of all miracles, the divine inhabiting the world of humanity, the gifting of Christ, Saviour to the world, in theological terms the Incarnation. The ultimate ‘sky fall’!
Such was the stunning clarity of the image of the sky upon the lake that it really did seem more than a mere reflection. In an almost surreal sense there was one sky in two places, the heavenly spilling over into the still waters of the earthly. In Celtic spirituality there is a fascinating concept of a ‘thin place’, a situation or location that is thick with a presence of the Divine, a space where the divide between the heavenly and the worldly appears to be a very thin membrane rather than a thick wall. I am sure we have all, at one time or another, experienced this kind of closeness to the ‘other worldly’. Lake Buttermere that day gifted us a penetrating visual metaphor, suggesting not just a ‘thin place’, but a space where the Divine and the earthly co-exist. The heavenly becomes the earthly in order that the earthly becomes the heavenly. A symbiosis of the Creator and the Created. A symbiosis of God and Humankind.
But the true beauty of the heavenly descending to the earthly, is manifest not in riches or worldly power, but strangely in humility and servanthood. Christmas is but the forerunner of Good Friday and Easter. In the Divine theological economy Christmas and Easter form the perfect continuum. Paul the Apostle exhorted the early Philippian Christian community to locate their faith firmly in the Divine plan for humanity, a plan that is seamless between the two great religious festivals :-
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
and became obedient unto death - even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.
May we visit once more the mystery of the Incarnation, and may the Holy Spirit enable us to see perhaps in a new way the sheer power of the Gospel story, a story that has no endings but only beginnings.
LORD, may we not just see Bethlehem, but experience it.
May the Holy Spirit open a channel for the inflowing of Christ
into the intimate depths of our being.