Letter to parishioners, 3 December 2021

Friday, 3 December 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

We have now begun the spiritual journey towards Christmas. As with last year, we are living through uncertain times. Last year our Christmas celebrations were curtailed by the ravages of another wave of the Covid virus. Our churches were able to remain open but there were many restrictions on what was allowed to take place in them. Congregation numbers were limited, and the usual gathering of families and visitors were not possible. Christmas 2020 was the strangest most of us can remember. So, what of Christmas 2021, and the journey through Advent which began last week?

This week we hear well-known and momentous words in our gospel reading (Luke 3:1-6). We hear of the word of God coming to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John, who we know as John the Baptist, had journeyed through the desolation and emptiness of the wilderness, before emerging as the long-expected forerunner and herald of Jesus. Of course, this preparing of the way was for the adult ministry of Jesus, the ministry that was to begin some thirty years after the events we recall at Christmas, but that does not negate its significance at this time of the year. Luke reminds us of the prophecy contained within the writings of Isaiah: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Luke is reminding us of the direct link between that which had been long-foretold by God and the call to repentance and baptism that was at the heart of John’s ministry.

At this time of year people’s attention becomes more and more focused on the minutiae of their Christmas celebrations. In recent days politicians, scientists and the media have added to our concerns by speaking of ‘Christmas being cancelled’ … again. Of course, neither our focus on the cards, the food and the presents, nor the bizarre notion of Christmas being ‘cancelled’ should divert us from the journey that began last Sunday. Our focus should be on our spiritual preparation for the moment when Jesus’ birth will once again be celebrated throughout the world. We should also be focusing on our prophetic role at this time.

The ministry of John the Baptist is important during Advent because it reminds us of the changes we are called to make in our lives, and it reminds us of our responsibility to join in his prophetic ministry of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to others. For many this will seem a step too far! Prophets are those weird people who, through the course of human history, have been persecuted and even martyred for the way they have confronted the secular ways of those amongst whom they have lived. We do not see ourselves in that light. We prefer to live quiet, comfortable and anonymous lives. We do not want to be seen as some sort of ‘religious obsessives’. But … we are all called to a prophetic ministry. We are all called to share the love of Jesus Christ with those amongst whom we live. That is the responsibility that was laid upon our shoulders by Jesus himself.

The life of a prophet does not necessarily involve standing on street corners and preaching, although that might turn out to be your calling. Rather, the life of a prophet demands that we live a prayerful life during which we do not hesitate to follow Christ’s model of love and service for all. Christmas, as it is celebrated in the western world, has become a time of self-obsession, it is our calling to do the exact opposite. Let us pray for the strength to do just that.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen