Christmas morning arrived with a beautiful sky behind St Michael’s church. This is the view from my bedroom window.
I hadn’t had much sleep, which is normal after getting in from midnight communion as it always takes an hour or so to wind down and get to sleep, but was glad to go off to St Michael’s church for the 10am communion service. I was presiding and leading the prayers of intercession with my curate and his daughter delivering the sermon. This was the final event of many over the past couple of weeks.
I had preached and presided at the midnight communion at St Michael’s, presided at All Saints’ 9.30pm where my curate had preached, led a crib service in St Michael’s churchyard at 5pm and led and preached at a Christingle service at St Giles’.
Although we bought our Christmas tree on the Friday before, it didn’t get decorated until Christmas Eve afternoon. The lights had been on for a few days, but no ornaments. The tree is leaning quite a bit to one side. Both my husband and I have tried to straighten it up, but to no avail. In a way, we like it like this. It sums up this Christmas – a bit wonky!
As I start this review of the most difficult and strange Christmas we have faced as a nation in my lifetime, I am glad that it all went well, and mightily relieved that the bishop had given permission not to have a service on Sunday 27th December. Like most parish clergy I was more tired than is usual when I got home on Christmas Day after the final service. I write this on the afternoon of Tuesday 29th. I am glad of the few days of rest, sleep and doing nothing much. I needed it.
I leave you with the mid-night communion sermon. The video is downloaded from our service on YouTube. The clip from Riding Lights Theatre will be removed at the end of January, according to the licensing agreement for its use.
I just love that passage from John’s gospel. I always make sure I get to read it at one of the services.
John doesn’t start with the birth of baby Jesus. He goes further back in time to the beginning of creation itself. In the beginning, before time began, God was….. And Jesus was….. and the Holy Spirit was……
In the beginning God spoke – Jesus is His Word, bringing things into being…. John’s gospel makes a clear link between Jesus, the Word of God, and Genesis 1 – the account of Creation.
God created the world – He started by saying Let there be Light – stars and galaxies came into being
Riding Lights theatre video – can explain it better than me….
God loved the world so much that he sent his Son Jesus to show people just how much God loves them AND to help heal the separation between God and people that the story of Adam and Eve explains. Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven and be friends with God again.
That is why Holy Communion is central to a celebration of Christmas. It makes no sense to celebrate Jesus’ birth if we don’t also hold in mind the reason for it.
Easter and Christmas are two of the days that Christians should go to church for communion, even if they don’t the rest of the year. Midnight mass is a tradition still kept by many people and it is wonderful to see our churches so full…. usually…. not this year of course.
For many people Christmas wouldn’t be the same without singing carols, going to church. We all have certain things we expect at Christmas: Brussels sprouts, mince pies, putting up the tree with its lights and ornaments. The in-laws visiting, presents opening, tele watching.
But not this year. This Christmas is difficult…. different from what we’ve come to expect. Different to what we had hoped for a couple of weeks ago when we thought we had a window of 5 days to do our visiting.
For some people that is a depressing thought. And being depressed and sad is a bit like being in the dark. There seems to be no way out and no end to it.
Hundreds of years before Jesus the prophet Isaiah wrote
“the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who walked in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
There are times when we are the people who walk in darkness. There are days when life thrusts us into darkness and chaos.
We may be sad, ill or worried. Some people may be living in poverty and struggling financially. Christmas is a bad time for those who feel the pressure to buy stuff they can’t afford because they feel they have to spend money on their children to show their love.
Whatever our own particular darkness, we come searching for something or someone to lighten it.
Hear God say: “Let there be Light” into your situation.
And when that happens things change. Maybe not all at once but they change.
Even if shadows remain, the light drives away the darkness. Jesus is the Light of the World who helps us to live our lives knowing God’s love and showing God’s love. As Jesus lights up our lives, we light up other people’s lives.
We, as members of the church, are part of the light that Jesus brings. And I am very proud of the way that church members and others in the community have responded this year in reaching out in love to others.
2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid. Many people have asked where God is in it all, or suggested it’s a sign of his anger at sin in the world.
However, I agree with Tom Wright’s response in his book God and the Pandemic. Available on Kindle, well worth reading.
He points out that as Christians we are part of God’s presence in the world.
Jesus said to a group of people locked in and afraid: ‘As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you.’
Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, he cried out to God on the night before his own death and he said blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn and those who work for peace and justice.
God’s son Jesus is responding to the pandemic through his church. We weep at the graves of friends and strangers, we weep with those who weep, we pray and when words fail, we groan in prayer through the Spirit. When we don’t know what to pray, we call out to God, and the Spirit prays through us.
And we do what we can to help meet the needs of those who are isolated, poor in spirit or hungry.
We face 2021 not knowing how long we will be coping with the pandemic. Yes, there is hope in the vaccination. But it will take time for us all to be immunised. And anyway many of the effects on people’s lives and livelihoods will still be there. We will be moving into a new normal where there will still be people struggling financially, emotionally and spiritually.
And that new normal will include Jesus continuing to be with His people as they bring his love and light to those around them.
My Advent Calendar was Christians Against Poverty – lives transformed by being helped to sort out their finances AND by coming to know the motivation of those who help: Jesus.
I am confident that the reaching out to help will continue when the pandemic is over. As you play your part in being Jesus’ Light and Love to those around you I hope you are strengthened by knowing, as St Paul did: “ I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
What if we leave here tonight living out the words of Isaiah – as people who have walked in darkness but who have seen a great light?
And what if we let that light lead us, flicker by flicker, to a place of hope, to a place where we rest in the knowledge that God is with us, and that whatever else Christmas is, it is light, it is God’s presence with us. It is hope.
We all need hope – not a vague wishing on a star hope – but hope in something or someone who we can see has helped others, brought light into their darkness.
The HOPE magazine we are giving away has stories of people who have found new meaning in their lives, or freedom from debt, and a top Covid scientist finding hope.
He says “By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship”. As he worked on the vaccine he had a verse from the psalms by his desk:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
I think I will end by using the same quote that Garry did in the Carol service from the introduction in the magazine:
It’s from King George’s 1939 Christmas broadcast:
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the year. ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. And he replied ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.”
May you be guided by the hand of God this Christmas season and into 2021, whatever it may bring.