Letter to parishioners, 18 December 2020

Friday, 18 December 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

Christmas is just one week away and the air is full of uncertainty and fear. Normally this week would be full of Carol Services, shopping, present wrapping, visiting family and friends, not to mention all the other activities with which we have tended to fill our every waking moment at this time of the year, even as recently as just one year ago. But … this year is different. Along with words and phrases like ‘social distancing’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘sanitising’, we now have the word ‘tier’ to contend with in a new way. At the moment, ‘tier’ definitely does not refer to the size of a wedding cake, rather it is meant to tell us how our lives are being restricted in order that we might protect ourselves and others. Alongside the confusions and disappointments we might be feeling on a personal level, we are also hearing many accounts of truly tragic moments when people who should be hugged and cared for are being isolated and left feeling abandoned. Christmas 2020 is going to be very different, and will certainly merit its own paragraph in the history of humanity. But … is everything as dark and bleak as we might be feeling just one week away from this year’s Christmas celebrations?

Down the ages humanity has had to face many calamities which have affected the way in which Christmas has or has not been celebrated. There have been many other Christmases that have known disappointment, separation, even tragedy. And yet the truth of Christmas has not gone away. We have all allowed personal customs and practices to grow up around our celebration of Christmas. Many of those customs revolve around the way we socialise with families, friends and neighbours. This year will be different. But, this is not the first year in which Christmas has had to be celebrated in a different way. Warfare, economic crises and pandemics have struck before, and yet the truth of Christmas has never gone away … not even for one moment.

In the Church’s calendar, this Sunday marks the beginning of the last week of Advent. For the past three weeks we have been journeying through a time of prayer and preparation. We have reflected upon how God’s call has been answered in order that he may finally enter this world in the form of a vulnerable baby. This week we will take the final steps of our journey towards Christmas by reflecting upon God’s call to Mary, the teenage Jewish peasant girl who God chose to be the mother of his Son, Jesus. By accepting God’s call Mary faced great danger and social isolation. But … Mary did not hesitate. Mary said ‘Yes’ and went forward in faith. No matter what inconveniences we may experience in the coming days, no matter how much ‘quieter’ our celebration of Christmas may be this year, we are called to reflect on Mary’s unhesitating response to God’s call in her life.

The truth is that Christmas has not changed one little bit. It is only the way we mark Christmas that is going to be different. Christmas is still our annual remembrance of that great moment in human history when God himself came to earth to share in the totality of the human condition. Jesus walked this earth for a comparatively brief time and yet, during that time, he saw and experienced all of the extremes of human life, even to the point of betrayal and a cruel execution. The truth of Christmas lives on, and we are called to celebrate that truth with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. Let us remember the joy of Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God, and let us set aside our personal discomfort in order that Christmas 2020 might not be the year in which we focused solely on ourselves and not on the God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to live among us, and to bring us his salvation as the ultimate gift.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen