‘Like Abraham, his native land forsaking…’
In the days before we all sang the same school hymn to the tune of ‘Highland Cathedral’, our school hymn was ‘Hear Us, Columba’. Even now, the first words, “Like Abraham, etc.”, can bring a tear to the old glass eye. Unlike the ubiquitous sameness of ‘Highland Cathedral’ (OK, rant over), by the time you got to the chorus, you could really belt it out.
The comparison Dom Fabian Duggan drew between Columba and Abraham was deliberate: both were called to leave their country and start again. “Hardly,” we might be tempted to say, “Columba was a flawed individual who had to get out of Ireland. The fact that he ‘made the best of it’ doesn’t entitle him to be in the same breath as the Father of three major religions.” Perhaps not, but as there is an earthiness as well as a heavenly quality about the life of Columba, so Abraham’s call to leave his own country and found a great nation, was full of tests, signs and decisions that had to be made in this world. In this way, Abraham continually confirmed his calling; that he was doing what God wanted.
Towards the end of Advent, we shall read the “genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” While it usually proves something of an endurance test for priest and people alike (as well as some interesting variations on biblical pronunciation), it is a list which is full of meaning. The first name mentioned is of utmost importance, Abraham. Jesus is called from his people, immersed in a history of promise and hope. It is to fulfil the promise made to Abraham that God sent his Son. It is vital for Matthew that his readers and listeners understand this. God is faithful and does not forget his vows.
Yet, for Matthew, it was also important that others heard the call of the Lord, and heard it amid their lives, when and where they were. This call would summon others to travel, like the Magi, who reflected on their findings, watched the heavens, stayed close to creation, and made the decision to seek and find. Like Abraham (and Jesus himself), they too sought confirmation that they were doing the right thing, following the right path, which is why they asked at the court of Herod and consulted the leading figures of Judaism. However, it was their own commitment to something new and bold that would ultimately guide them: just like Abraham; just like Columba; just like us.
For us too
Another of my favourite hymns is the one by Marty Haughen, “Here in this Place.” The last verse starts, “Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light-years away. But here in this place the new light is shining…” Haughen reminds us that religion is a here and now thing. But here and now the divine light of God shines, guiding us, calling us out of our stories, yet through our stories, to move beyond our present reality by staying close to it, knowing that there is much more than just meets the eye.
Like it or not, Christmas songs and carols will be a major feature of indoor and outdoor experiences. Instead of railing against it, might I suggest we embrace it. What desires, messages, hints are given in these seasonal tunes? Even the most saccharine and soppy of Christmas ditties may well be calling us, in the hub bub of our lives, to listen, to look, to move.