From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Christmas message of Archbishop Rowan Williams

Date Fri, 6 Dec 2002 14:02:14 -0500

December 6, 2002


Episcopalians: Christmas message of Archbishop Rowan Williams

One of the great treasures of the Christian world is the great 
heritage of Christmas songs and carols in the English language 
from the Middle Ages. Modern composers still want to set these 
beautiful and often surprising words. Some will have heard the 
carol beginning "There is no rose of such virtue as is the Rose 
that bare Jesu" which picks up the ancient tradition of 
describing Mary as the rose blossoming from the wintry earth of 
human history.

But the important words come in the second verse: "For in 
this Rose contained was Heaven and earth in little space." Jesus 
in the womb of Mary is already the one "in whom all the fullness 
of the Godhead dwells bodily," in St Paul's wonderful words in 
Colossians. The eternal Son of God is not contained by the 
universe; he is what surrounds and sustains it all. Heaven and 
earth live by the gift of life from him ("in him was life," says 
St. John's Gospel).

And here, in the "little space" of Mary's body, divine 
fullness is alive; when Jesus is born, "the fullness of him who 
fills all in all," to quote Paul again, is wrapped in cloths and 
tucked into a feeding trough. After the crucifixion, the 
fullness of God's life is locked away in the tomb. God's way 
with us is not to overwhelm us with majesty but to live his life 
"in little space" and to speak there the quiet words that summon 
us to faith.

Only when we are very quiet can we hear. Only when we stand 
still can we give him room. Faced with the fullness of God in 
the embryo, the baby, the tired wanderer in Galilee, the body on 
the cross, we have to look at ourselves hard, and ask what it is 
that makes us too massive and clumsy to go into the "little 
space where we meet God in Jesus Christ.

It may be our wealth and security; it may be our ambition; it 
may be our images of ourselves as powerful or virtuous or godly. 
The world--and the Church--are still fairly full of people (like 
you and me) who walk around surrounded by inflated ideas and 
pictures of ourselves that crowd out others and push away God. 
We need at Christmas above all to remember what Christ says 
again and again--that there is no way in to his little space 
without shedding our great load of arrogant self-reliance, 
bluster, noisy fear and fantasy.

And when we have set this aside, we find that it is only in 
the little space that there is room enough for all of 
us--forgiven, welcomed, made inheritors of the divine fullness 
of life and joy that God longs to share with us. Behind the low 
door of the stable is infinity--and more, an infinity of mercy 
and love. No straining our eyes to see a distant God; but a God 
whose fullness dwells in that space we are not small and simple 
enough to enter.

+Rowan Cantuar

Rowan D. Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury


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