Weekly Email – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St Stephen
As we spend time over the next day setting up crib scenes in our homes and in church, I often wonder to myself, what the most important figure in the crib scene is. Surely the baby Jesus must count as the most significant, but after that, what are the most crucial figures?
Most of us would probably say Mary and Joseph, I suspect. Without them, Jesus would not be in Bethlehem and couldn’t have been born. Yet, when one examines the history of the depiction of the nativity, one realises that in the earliest centuries of the church, the presence of Mary and Jospeh was not as important in the depiction of the Nativity as one might imagine.
So what was present, and what was regarded in the patristic period as the most important element in any depiction of the birth of Christ? The answer is one you may not be expecting. It is clear that by the fourth century, one of the most important elements in the creche scene was the ox and the ass.
The earliest image of the stable scene comes to us from a fourth century sarcophagus in Milan (illustrated below), and it merely displays the baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by the two animals. His mother and step-father are completely absent and apparently incidental to the scene! How did this image come about, especially as the gospels say nothing of the presence of oxes and asses around the manger?
We learn much about the way in which the patristic imagination thought about the Nativity from this image, for it is an important meditation on two texts from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which the birth of Jesus was seen to fulfil.
Isaiah 1.3 says, “The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” Although the nativity narratives in the gospels do not mention any animals by the manger, this mysterious text from Isaiah was seen to be fulfilled in the stable setting implied by Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.
Furthermore, an equally puzzling text from the Septuagintal version of Habakkuk was also used by early commentators in conjunction with this quotation from Isaiah. 3,2. Habakkuk 3.2 states in the Septuagint, “in the midst of the two beasts will you be known.” These seemingly puzzling texts in Isaiah and Habbakuk were held by both Ambrose and Augustine to be fulfilled in the stable at Bethlehem, which may account for why this fascinating image is first found in Milan.
We discover from this early image of Christmas with a baby and two animals that the patristic imagination was fundamentally typological. In other words, Christians sought not to depict the nativity in a literal, uninventive, realistic way as we tend to, simply showing what happened in terms of linear time and narrative – but rather, sought to describe what the stable in Bethlehem signified, and the true, deep reality revealed by the story of Bethlehem.
The birth of Jesus represented not simply the appearance of yet another significant teacher in the ancient world, but rather the much longed-for birth of the one about whom the whole of the scriptures speak. Christ, therefore, is present in the Hebrew Scriptures, foreshadowed though the types, allusions, and prophecies which we read there. It is only in the light of the newly born Christ that these otherwise puzzling or elliptical texts make sense.
Those who created that early sarcophagus image were making a clear theological statement – it is in and through Christ, and Christ alone, that we read the Scriptures, and it is in the light of Christ’s birth, that the whole of our human condition finally makes sense and finds its fulfilment.
So as you put your cribs up this Christmas, do no under any circumstances forget to include the ox and ass! They make a much deeper theological statement about what we believe concerning Christmas than you might imagine.
As we have got the crib figures out at All Saints’ over the past few days, it has been one of the biggest shocks of the year for me to discover that All Saints’ does not posses an ox and ass for its crib!! We must put our minds to acquiring a pair before next Christmas!
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and safe New Year,
Dürer Exhibition at National Gallery
Friday 14th January 2022, 5.15pm
We are organising a parish trip to visit “Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist” at the National Gallery on Friday 14th January.
It is the first major UK exhibition of German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer in nearly 20 years. Through paintings, drawings, prints, and letters, this exhibition follows Dürer’s travels across Europe, bringing to life the artist himself, and the people and places he visited.
Charting his journeys to the Alps, Italy, Venice and the Netherlands, the exhibition will explore how Dürer’s travels sparked an exchange of ideas with Netherlandish and Italian Renaissance artists, fuelled his curiosity and creativity, and increased his fame and influence across Europe.
‘Dürer’s Journeys’ will bring together loans from museums and private collections across the world, including the artist’s striking ‘Madonna and Child’ (c. 1496/1499) from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, never before seen in the UK.
We will meet at the National Gallery for a talk from Dr Susan Foister, deputy director of the gallery, at 5.15pm. After viewing the exhibition there is the opportunity to have dinner together at Le Beaujolais restaurant in Litchfield Street.
Tickets are on a strictly ‘first come, first served’ basis. The exhibition tickets cost £20. A three-course dinner at Le Beaujolais will be £37 (without wine – each person will be able to pay for their own wine on the night), so if you wish to stay on for dinner, the total is £57. If you are a member of the National Gallery, the cost is £37 – please send your membership number to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can include you in the group.
To buy your ticket – either with dinner or without – visit this page and select one of the three price options. If you are unable to make a payment electronically by card, the parish office will be able to receive a cheque.
Christmas Services 2021
Friday 24 December
11pm MIDNIGHT MASS
Celebrant: The Bishop of Fulham; Preacher: Fr Peter Anthony
Saturday 25 December
11am CHRISTMAS DAY HIGH MASS
Preacher: Fr Michael Bowie
Sunday 26 December
11am ST STEPHEN HIGH MASS
Mass in E minor – W. Lloyd Webber
Preacher: Fr Michael Bowie
Thursday 6 January 2022
6pm EPIPHANY HIGH MASS
Sunday 9 January
6pm EPIPHANY CAROL SERVICE AND BENEDICTION
Links for Sunday
The links for the Propers for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and St Stephen are at the end of this email.
Craig Williams RIP
A Solemn High Mass of Requiem will take place at All Saints’ for the repose of the should of Craig Williams on Saturday 15th January 2022 at 12 noon. If you would like to contribute to the cost of covering the music for this Mass, please make a donation through our ‘donate’ page here and send an email to the parish office letting us know what the donation is intended for.
We are looking for volunteers to help with the flowers in church. If you have a particular talent for flower arranging and would like to help from time to time or on a regular basis, please contact Shawn on 07988 287 663 or email@example.com.
If you would like to make a donation for flowers, please contact Shawn or speak to Chris Self.
Prisoners and captives
Nazanin Zhagari-Ratcliffe, Ismaeil Maghrebinejad, Nasrin Sotoudeh
Rohingya Christians in Pakistan, Karen Christians in Burma, Tigrayan Christians in Ethiopia
Fr Harry Hodgetts, Martin Berka, Sue Yesnick, Elizabeth Lyon, Ross Dixon, Bernard Holmes, Jack de Gruiter, Anne-Marie Chartier, Carol Harrison, Ruth Wilson, Sara Vise, Joyce and David Cox, James Shrimpton, Rosemary Harris
Those known to us recently departed
Lorna Smith, Kathleen McMorran, Arjan Melwani, Michael McParland
Anniversaries of death
26th – Hugh Warren Pr, Lennox Berkeley
27th – Desmond Berk, Kenneth Bond
28th – Percy Flemine, Richard Williams, Paul Drake, Ernest Gaskell, Gordon Symes
29th – Katherine Mundy Dn, Brian Lee
30th – Elaine Boyton, Mona Crompton, John Freebairn-Smith, Malcolm Melville Pr
JANUARY 1st – Ethel de Rougement, Trevor Burnett-Brown, Nicholas Luff
Calendar and Intentions
The Calendar and Intentions will now be published monthly on the website. You can view January’s here.
Supporting All Saints
Parish Giving Scheme
You can set up a regular donation to All Saints here.
We use the Parish Giving Scheme, which allows contributions to be anonymous and deals with GiftAid, saving our office a lot of time. You can read about how the scheme works here.
Donations for general church purposes
To give by BACS please use the following details, advising the Administrator to collect Gift Aid:
PCC All Saints (Charity no. 1132895)
Sort Code 60-09-15
Parish Legacy Policy
We are always delighted to hear from anyone who wants to support us with a donation. Our PCC Legacy Policy encourages people to leave bequests specifically to one of our two related charities to be used for purposes of lasting value (rather than day to day costs):
All Saints Choir & Music Trust (Charity # 802994)
or The All Saints Foundation (Charity # 273390).