21 December 2022

The TC's Christmas message: Open wide the stable door...

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill in Salvation Army uniform

A Christmas message from Territorial Commander Commissioner Anthony Cotterill.

Of all the words that attempt to capture the glorious experience of Christmas, I suspect that ‘thrall’ is not top of your list! ‘Joyful’, ‘peaceful’ and even ‘merry’ will be way ahead of this interesting word that I primarily know from one of The Salvation Army’s finest carols.

Published in 1961, written for male voices by General Wilfred Kitching and Commissioner Arch Wiggins, ‘The Stable Door’ is a favourite of many – with a wonderful invitation for each of us to join those bringing gifts to the infant King. The stable door is open, and it is possible for ordinary people like us to bring ourselves, offering all that we are to the Son of God. The last verse says it beautifully:

Now I bow me at thy stall,

Giftless, yet I give thee all;

Thou art Lord, and I am thrall

To thee, O Son of God!

There it is! ‘I am thrall to thee.’ Right in the centre of Christmas thinking and reflection is this thought, this possibility of being ‘thrall’ – whatever that means!

I venture to suggest that most people who do not have English as their first language may never have even come across the word. I also suspect many people whose first or only language is English rarely, if ever, use the word and would struggle to give a definition – unless, that is, you know your Salvation Army songbook!

Song 698, verse 3: ‘Salvation! Salvation! O tell to all the story,/ The thraldom of evil is broken and gone!’ Song 1010, verse 2: ‘Too long mistrust and fear/ Have held our souls in thrall.’

We are more likely to come across the word, and thus understand its meaning, in the context of being ‘enthralled’ – that is, being captivated by what is happening.

Now that begins to make sense! Invited into the presence of Christ, the overwhelming response is to bow in wonder and to be captivated by the awesome, generous love of God expressed in the person of Jesus. ‘Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour… I’m captured by your holy calling’ (SASB 355).

In the presence of Jesus, the bowing soul experiences a flip of thraldom from darkness, sin and fear to light, salvation and hope. Of course, that transition is secured for us at Calvary, but the writing is clearly on the wall, if not in our hearts, at Christmas.

Photo shows someone approaching the manger scene.

I am sure you will have sung ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’ more than once in the past few days. That reminder gives me great strength and comfort as we come to Christmas and the conclusion of 2022.

The fears of the world and of individuals are at crisis point as not experienced in decades. Having come through the dreadful days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the long-term psychological, physical and spiritual consequences are immense. War, especially that evilly waged against Ukraine, has added fuel to fires of despair and deepened the economic pressures that affect, it seems, the whole world and every person in it.

We are all acutely aware of the challenges for so many who are desperately trying to keep above the rising waters of financial pressure caused by inflation and an inability to pay for heat or food. Fears of not being able to pay the mortgage or rent and feed the family or keep warm and thus keep on an even keel, are debilitating. Resultant strikes by so many different services, and a knock-on inability to easily access medical care and treatment, all further propel us back into the thralldom of fear from which we have been liberated.

Some words from Psalm 27: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear… One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord’ (vv1–4 English Standard Version).

Psalm 27:1

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Read the passage

It seems to me that the antidote to all the encircling fears that may beset us this Christmas is an intentional entrance into the presence of God, into the house of the Lord.

Deliberate steps through an open stable door, to a place where, even trembling with love and pain, I come and bow before the Son of God, offering again all that I am to the One who is giving everything up for me, and declaring: ‘Thou art Lord and I am thrall to thee, O Son of God!’ I hope that you will join me in this prayer and trust that you will find great enthralment as you revisit and continue to be part of the greatest story ever told.

Thank you for all your service for the Lord in 2022. I wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas and commencement to 2023.

Written by

Anthony Cotterill

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill

Territorial Commander

Discover more

A message from Commissioner Gill Cotterill from the War Cry Christmas special.

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Territorial Envoy Alice Swain considers how we can support people who may be struggling during the festive season.

Lieut-Colonel Drew McCombe argues why the falling number of Christians signals an opportunity to make a real difference.

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