Letter to parishioners, 10 December 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the next week I will be leading seven carol services across our benefice. I will be helping our schools understand the meaning of Christmas and the importance of gathering in church to hear the story and to sing the carols. I will be joining with four of the communities we are called to love and serve in the Lord’s name as they come together for this important moment in the year. Of course, we are really still travelling through the season of Advent, that time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Nativity, but this Sunday marks the turning point in that journey. We are now half way through our time of preparation and, on this Gaudete Sunday, we turn our attention towards that which is to come, and what it will mean to us in the coming year.

Every year I hear criticism of those who only come to our churches for their ‘once-a-year-fix’! That really is the expression I have heard used on more than one occasion! I have been asked why we should ‘value’ such a casual acquaintance with the church. I have even been asked why we are having carol services before Christmas, surely we should be waiting until after 25th December? My answer to these questions, and all the others that may be racing through our minds, lies in our gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent … Matthew 11:2-11. In that extract we will hear of John the Baptist, from his prison cell, sending two of his messengers to ask Jesus: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Jesus’ response to John’s question refers to the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecy we read in the book of Isaiah. Jesus tells John’s disciples to go and share the Good News they have witnessed with their own eyes: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Jesus is the Messiah, the true God who came into this world some two thousand years ago. Surely, we should be sharing this amazing news with anyone and everyone who wants to hear it, no matter what time of year it may be, and no matter whether they want to hear it just the once or many, many times.

In tomorrow’s gospel reading we will also hear other words from Jesus, words of challenge to all who will gather in the coming days. When John’s disciples had gone back with Jesus’ reply, Jesus asked the gathered crowd: What did you go into the wilderness to look at? Every year as we gather in our churches to hear the Christmas story and to sing those familiar carols we are called to consider our answer to Jesus’ question, albeit in a slightly amended form: What have we come to see? Each of us needs to reflect upon this. Have we gathered to see how the church is decorated? Have we gathered to be ‘seen’ by our neighbours? Have we gathered to satisfy our need for a moment of nostalgia in the middle of all the commercialism? Have we gathered because parents and grandparents do, or would have, expected it of us? OR … are we in the church for the annual carol service as members of the company led by angels, shepherds and wise men, to worship, praise, glorify and give thanks for the Christ-child?

On Monday evening we will be gathering in Corby Glen church to decorate our Christmas tree as an act of welcome for those who will come together this Christmas. Similar moments will be occurring in our other churches in the coming days. Let us pray that the Christian love we are about to invest in our decorations, our readings, our singing and our prayers may be felt by all who join us in the coming days, whether they join us just once a year or every week.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen