Letter to parishioners, 27 November 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

A Happy New Year to you all!

No, I have not become confused, and neither have I forgotten that the 1st January 2023 is still thirty- five days away. Sunday, 27th November is the First Sunday of Advent, and it is the beginning of the new liturgical year. So, I say again, a Happy New Year to you all.

As we enter this new year we will, once again, begin the annual round of remembrance and celebration. Once again we will pass through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascensiontide, Pentecost and all those weeks of Ordinary Time. Familiar accounts of Jesus’ life will be read, familiar music will be sung, and familiar prayers will be recited. But, what will make this year’s cycle of prayer and worship different from however many others we have lived through?

Many people are already deep into their preparations for Christmas. I started to receive the flood of advertising associated with Christmas on 1st May. Since then the one or two catalogues sent out to remind clergy (!) that they should be preparing for Christmas has turned into a mountain of paper that goes from letterbox to recycling bin with very few seconds in between. Many started to ask that question: What would you like for Christmas? as we moved into October. Amazon is already shipping Christmas orders at a higher rate than ever. But, I go back to my question: ‘What will make this year’s cycle of prayer and worship different from all those that we have already lived through?’

The Church’s new year begins with the season of Advent. Unlike the celebrations we associate with the calendar new year, there are no fireworks and late night parties. Instead, flowers will be removed from our churches, we will refrain from singing the Gloria, and our readings, prayers and hymns will be urging us to be ready for Christ’s coming into this world. Instead of joining a great universal celebration, Advent is a time for us to get ready through prayer, through regular engagement with scripture and through a time of fasting. As we prepare for the joy of Easter through the forty days of Lent, so we are called to prepare for the joy of the Nativity through a similar time of preparation.

Early Christians were convinced that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Two thousand years on we are reminded of the words we read in the second letter of Peter: … with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The coming of God’s Kingdom, that for which we pray every time we say The Lord’s Prayer, is not a moment we can predict, and neither should we waste our time trying to do so! Instead we should heed Jesus’ words to us in this week’s gospel (Matthew 24:36-44)… you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Jesus’ calls us to be ready, and the regular cycle of the Church’s year helps us to do just that. As we go through the familiar pattern of the ecclesiastical seasons we are being invited to find that which is new, that which is exciting, that which will help us to grow in faith, and that which will empower us to step out in Christ’s name, sharing the light, the love and the joy of Christ with all. So let us begin this new year with a binding resolution, a resolution to step away from the humdrum and the mundane and to step into the fullness of the life Christ came to give to each of us.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen