An Advent Tale, Or, Christmas Miracles Do Happen
by John M. Joyce (December 2011)
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All through that week the stable took shape. Our verger, Henry Providor, laid aside his virge and put off his cassock, chimere and jabot and turned his attention to the electric lighting of the scene. Everything had to be done in such a way that the whole thing could be dismantled and re-erected relatively easily year after year and Henry and Peter were determined to get it right. By Advent Sunday they had finished it, and the stable could be lit at the flick of a switch in the Vestry. A large silver star made from highly polished aluminium had been hung above it suspended from one of the gargoyles on the roof edge of the decani side nave aisle. At the apex of its roof there was a base all ready to receive the carving of the Angel and the positions for the rest of the figures had their secure fittings in place as well. That Patriarch2 Sunday just before Holy Communion and the lighting of the first Advent Candle3 Peter brought the crib for the Christ Child to the scene and put it in place. It was a work of art, beautifully put together and impressively ornamentally carved, and it promised well for the rest of the figures, the faces of which, Peter explained, he was still putting the final touches to.
He grunted and glanced in my direction.
Again, Peter said nothing but took the plaudits directed to him as his undoubted due, but with modesty. I thought to myself that he looked a little more gaunt and withdrawn than on the previous day.
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Finally, on the nineteenth, the Fourth Sunday in that Advent season and the one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Peter delivered the model of the Christ Child and fixed It in the Crib. The face of the Child, just like all the others, was still and composed but also, in this case, happy. The tableau was complete.
That Sunday Peter attended all the services. He even came to the usually sparsely attended Compline service and departed, as we all did, in the quiet of the Great Silence.6
I looked closely at him and he seemed alright. Indeed, he seemed to be smiling and looked quite happy. I remember thinking that work, whatever the job was, was probably just what he needed right now and that a rush job was even better for Peter was always a man who would go out of his way to help a customer.
My mind somewhat relieved of its fears I walked carefully home and then to the Church for Compline.
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At that a massively rotund and jolly looking man with a neat white beard and hair to match and dressed in a bright red jumper peered over the top of what I now realised was a huge sleigh made of wood.
It was Henry Providor.
- In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through December 24 until Christmas Eve. When the day before Christmas and Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday it is never counted as the fourth Sunday in Advent but is always separate from the Advent Sundays.
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