After reading about John’s defense of “matter” as an aid to worship (but not the object of worship itself), I set out to lead my first school Carol Service of the year. What’s the connection there, you might be wondering?
Well, there, before my eyes, all manner of “matter” – cardboard, teatowels, curtains-turned-cloaks, tinsel (so much tinsel!) and the obligatory plastic baby doll – drew people, myself included, more deeply into the awe and wonder of encountering the living, incarnate God. As the shepherds, wise men, angels, and even the sheep, took turns to bow before the manger and take their place in the tableau, it was obvious that the “stuff” had become very much more than “stuff”. It had become the stuff of worship, revealing something far greater than the sum of its parts.
I don’t know what John of Damascus would have made of cotton-wool sheep costumes and glittery paper stars as an aid to worship. In some ways its a far cry from the beautiful, prayerful icons he venerated and defended so vigorously. But in another sense, it’s all part of the same continuum. It’s all about using the “matter” at hand to get to the heart of the matter, to draw nearer to the heart of God.
So, tinsel or icons, glitter or statues, whatever helps us draw nearer to God in worship, let us celebrate as a gift from God, who longs for us to draw near, as God draws near to us is the “matter” of human flesh.
This year for Advent Book Club we are reading “Unearthly Beauty” by Magdalen Smith. Join in on Facebook or Twitter using #AdventBookClub.