Christmas: magic in the gospel.

The magic of Christmas can be found in all areas of our lives. It’s no secret that Christmas is an annual delight for me. From the rehearsals to prepare for the big Christmas Morning discovery, to the loss of the Christmas cash, there are many stories that add to the magic and the mystery, and none more than the divinity of Christmas.

I was a slip of a schoolgirl in Primary 5, when I was selected to read a passage from the bible at the Christmas Eve service in our local Church in Shotts. Not only was this a great honour, it was also being recorded by the BBC for their Songs of Praise programme. So my delivery of the gospel was now centre stage and about to be heard by people all over the United Kingdom, that was if they had actually tuned into BBC Radio Scotland.

This was about as close to famous as I was going to be as a child and it was both a thrilling and daunting prospect. It was no real surprise I had been the recipient of the reading prize in many of my primary school classes. But to deliver this live on the radio was about to test the quality of my Received Pronunciation. Perhaps I might be snapped up by the BBC, who knew?

So I got down with some serious rehearsing, and it was full on, so much effort went in to this I can still recall the opening verse of the passage, which was from St Luke’s gospel. This was the moment I fell in love with the real story of Christmas. Day in day out I recited it, practiced it, looked in the mirror and mouthed it, exaggerating the words, investing more and more in the meaning until I truly felt it.

St Luke was one of the many apostles of Jesus, his gospel in the New Testament is noted to be peppered with evidential information that situates events in time. This historical account draws you into the era, and although Scholars are split on the accuracy of his writing, it is credited with being an historic account of events. The gospel passage is one of a census, under the direct request of the Roman Dictator Julius Caesar, an event that places the story within a time frame. This passage, because I became so familiar with it, strongly shaped my beliefs as a young girl. It always reinforced the real meaning of Christmas for me every year since I first learned about it.

Later in life I learned more about St Luke that only served to reinforce my personal religious beliefs and add weight to them. If you are looking for evidence then Luke of all the apostles was arguably one of the most evidentially informative and historically accurate of the gospel writers. He was also strongly believed to be the probable author of the Acts of the Apostles meaning his contribution to the narrative of Christianity was substantial. There’s no doubt he was capable, as a physician he was an educated man who lived until he was 84 years.

The radio programme, much to my disappointment, was actually being recorded and not live, so we had to do this in November. As it happens this day was not without its own dramas. It was to be a memorable day for me for all of the wrong reasons. My Grandad had been ill in hospital, I now know that it was bowel cancer but as a child I was not informed about that. It was a complete surprise when he died and it was on the day of my recital. I remember the pain forming a lump the size of a golf ball in the back of my throat, forcing the emotion upward, forming as tears in my eyes, stinging and smarting as I tried to keep them from tipping over the lid and dribbling down my face. I will never forget the memory of my father unable to conceal his distress and letting the emotion fall over at the loss of his beloved father. Having spent most of the day crying and feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness, like I had never before experienced, it was clear I had to gather myself together and get ready for the big recording. I was not sure I could even walk to the Church never mind stand up and deliver the gospel.

In the Catholic faith, the Gospel is read by the priest, but the readings in the Church of Scotland, could be delivered by anyone. Looking back from where I stand now on my religious belief, the enormity of being asked to read from the gospel of St Luke was an incredible honour. I recall that my cheeks were glowing, red from all the upset. My throat felt as if it had glue poured down into my gullet and attracted all the dust disturbed by the parishioners as they entered the church in their hundreds. It’s amazing what a BBC recording can do to people, even if they were only on the radio.

“And it came to pass in those days” ………….I began to read with no sign of nerves full of confidence and self-assured knowing Grandad was there, right there beside me telling me I was doing just fine.

Lazarus-more than one miracle.

In my humble opinion, the Lazarus story in the Gospel of St John is one of the most uplifting, inspiring miracles that Jesus performed. You may have read about it or seen it in my favourite visual representation of it played by Robert Powell in the lead role of Franco Zaffarelli’s 1977 film “Jesus of Nazareth”. (Although the water into wine does threaten its status ever so slightly). The facts of this miracle are simply a statement of faith.

Remarkably, and on more than one occasion, we too have experienced our very own thaumaturgy right here in our own back yard. This is not intended to be a blasphemous or offensive statement; these ‘miracles’ may for many people be difficult to explain, understand, discern or even accept. But we have been here before with our hearts in our mouths, making mercy dashes or fearing the worst. It’s these inexplicable events that I truly believe it’s something more or bigger than just coincidence.

The first time I was sitting in a restaurant with my friend, just about to order lunch, when I’d a frantic call from my sister. My mother was more than a little concerned about my father’s health. Before I could order my drink and peruse the menu, I was making a merciful dash for home.

Was it good fortune I was nearby or was it fortuitous I was able to get there quickly? Was it a blessing my mother had postponed her usual hair appointment that day, went home early and found him? Was it a miracle that the ambulance team that was free to attend was able to be with us within half an hour? Was it just fate that they’d had the training and experience to recognise that my father was suffering an Abdominal Aeortic Aneurysm and needed to be taken straight to Edinburgh rather than our local hospital? Was it more than destiny that the staff in A&E put me straight into a relatives room knowing the most likely prognosis for his condition was fatal? It is a fact that only 2/10 people survive this type of abruption, and that day he was one of the 2.

All of the things that needed to happen that day, at the right time did. You might suggest that it was the stars that were aligned, or that fate or destiny had a hand in it. If you have no faith you might consider this was all a bit of a coincidence. But it was my un-shakable belief that he pulled through that day because there was a greater power and a plan, one that might not always be visible but who has a plan all the same. All of the conditions that were needed enabled my dad to survive that day; someone, somewhere, somehow made sure they were in place.

And it was to be more of the same on our dash home from the Caribbean; there were prayers, many, many prayers. Would we be able to get home on time? Would we be able to pay one last visit? Would there be time for the religious beliefs of our loved one to be administered?

Was it just tardiness that the heating was still on when he fell keeping his temperature steady? Was it just fate that a Nurse arrived when the first caller gained access to the house? Once again the people we needed were right where they needed to be when the drama unfolded. The Nurse was able to give life saving treatment, until the ambulance arrived. Was it just ignorance that the ambulance staff, unfamiliar with the area, asked for advice and were directed, more appropriately to the hospital more capable of the kind of response that was needed? Was it a coincidence that the hospital where he was taken had surgeons at the top of their game, where their experience was second to none and were able to deliver him back to his family?

That’s why I believe it was faith that ensured that when we arrived, absolutely gratified, our ‘Lazarus’ was raised; seated, smiling and welcoming us back from our holiday…………