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Open souls

chickens running in and out’.

‘I bring you good news, news of great joy for the whole nation. Today there has been born to you in the city of David a deliverer – the messiah, the Lord.’

For many years our home was in South India. Very early on Christmas morning, long before the hot sun was up over the palm trees and paddy fields, the village folk would be in their thatched, open-sided church preparing for the Christmas Day services.

Even the warm air smelt fragrant. It was still dark, but the sense of anticipation was palpable as they made beautiful their humble place of worship. High above the simple, thatched village homes the fast-fading stars, which would still be bright in far-off Scotland, reminded us of that first Christmas and of these earlier shepherds in their fields in Palestine.

By the time the worship started, most of the large congregation would be sitting on the earth floor inside or standing around outside. The inside of the church was overflowing hours before the Christmas songs started. From babes in arms to frail village elders. And I mean overflowing!

Everyone in their spotless Christmas clothes and garlands – the whole place a sea of colour, laughter and joy. With the bullocks (often attached to wooden carts, for many had travelled miles to church) standing placidly around, and the chickens, ducks and geese running everywhere. Even the village goats knew it was a special day.

Above all was this sense of anticipation and of excitement which made these Christmas mornings so memorable. Jesus was here! Alive in their midst. This was not a story from 2,000 years earlier – this was reality here and now. It was the blessing of heaven present on earth; on the often much too dry earth of southern India.

As the rich sound of the Tamil Christmas lyrics moved through the village and held us and all the village animals in a web of light and of promise, it came home to me again that there is a beautiful, powerful and elemental truth at the heart of our fleeting human experience. A truth which can be expressed in many ways. And also in this way. That where the soul is open to the possibilities of God’s presence, life’s journey – however outwardly difficult or uncertain – can be transformed.

I will never forget these often wrinkled, knotted, expectant hands reaching out in the later part of the service for the body and blood of Jesus – the One who gives hope and healing, not just on Christmas morning, but every day.

Their eyes were seeing God not in a stable in Bethlehem, but on these dusty, sun-drenched paths of their own village. And they knew in their souls that, despite everything that life would throw at them, the promise of God to his people was sure.

Their hearts were restored. They were held in Love, and were thankful.

For a moment in these days of Christmas,
let me pause and still my heart
and know that you have come to earth for me.

Author, poet, minister in the Church of Scotland and past director (warden) of the Iona Abbey in Scotland, Rev. Millar's ministries have included serving churches in South India, the founding of the Wellspring Community in Australia, and social justice ministries with Aboriginal people of Australia and residents of Guguletu, South Africa. He is also director of the Dr. Dorothy Millar Trust, which supports peace and social justice initiatives worldwide.