As I write, yesterday was Advent Sunday, the beginning of a time of preparation and waiting, for the church. As we entered the Season of Advent, we were reminded to be alert, to be awake; how many times have we been reminded of this over the course of the past year? How many times have we been reminded to be alert to the dangers presented to ourselves and our loved ones by an unseen enemy: a virus which knows no discrimination. To date, it has, without doubt, been such a difficult year for us all, and as we enter the Advent Season, even more difficult decisions have to be faced.
Christmas traditionally begins with a service of Holy Communion (Mass) in which we sing and welcome Christ once more into our lives. This year we have been informed that congregational singing is dangerous – it is a potential virus spreader and we have not been allowed to sing in our worship, or elsewhere for many, many months. Happily, as we stepped into Advent yesterday, with it came the news that choirs will be allowed to sing in church this Christmas, (socially distanced, of course) and congregations can sing carols outside. I am not going to go down the route of the comical image this brought to mind when I first read it, of an ‘indoor/outdoor’ service, but instead I am working on how we can incorporate some live music into our services at St Paul’s at midnight and also on Christmas morning.
I am also currently working on an ‘Alternative Crib Service’ with Mick. This family service at 4.30pm on Christmas Eve, traditionally offers families the opportunity to come to church and to hear once again the Christmas story and be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. Of course, we will not be able to form the lovely Nativity tableau as we have in the past, but we do have plans afoot and we hope that people will come along in whatever Nativity costumes they would like to, and join us.
We will follow this with our beautiful candlelit midnight service beginning at 11.30pm and our family service at 10.45am on Christmas Day (sanitising between each).
On a personal front, I think the most difficult decision we have to make this Christmas is who to spend our five days with. Secular ‘Christmas’ is being brought forward to the 23rd December and finishes on the 27th December. This is not the case, of course for the church. Christmas for us begins, as I said, at midnight on Christmas Eve. as it turns in to Christmas Day and it continues until the Feast of Epiphany on 6th January. The decision as to who to spend our Christmas with is not straight forward. There are so many considerations and questions to be asked: Who might we be putting at risk by inviting them? Is it worth it? Is it more important for our mental health to see and touch and feel those we have missed for so very long? These are the difficult decisions and I certainly don’t have the answers. We must all come to our own conclusions and I would suggest that we do this both prayerfully and practically. If we pray, if we consider all the ramifications of our choices, I am sure we will make the correct decisions.
And you known, whatever those decisions turn out to be, nothing can take away from the joy of Christmas. Whatever our circumstance, the joy of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, who came to live with us, to know our sorrows and our happiness, can never be diminished.
The virus has taken so much this year, but it cannot ever take away the grace and love of God, who sent His Son to live with us, to be one of us. And don’t forget that Jesus was also born into the darkest of times. He began life in a lowly dwelling in an occupied country and almost immediately became a refugee. In the course of His life, He knew all about hardship and pain, about sorrow and loss. But He also knew about joy and peace, not the joy and peace that is brought about by material gains, but joy and peace that is found in our own hearts. God given joy and peace.
As we approach Christmas, as we prepare ourselves once again to celebrate, however we do it, whoever we do it with, let us do it in the awareness of the joy and peace that the first Christmas brought in the form of that baby in a manger; the joy and peace that freely dwells in each of our hearts, if we just take the time to reach in and find it.
May the joy of the Angels’ message fill you with anticipation and be in your hearts as we travel through Advent.