November 2010 Letter

Happy New (Church) Year!

 

Happy New Year?  Has the vicar been overcome by an unusual bout of over-efficiency and submitted her January magazine article a month early?  No – it’s that the Christian year begins not as you might think, on January 1stwhen we flip a leaf in our calendars but on the first Sunday in Advent, this year on the 28thof November.  So all through December, as the children count off the days until Christmas on their Advent calendars, and inside and outside our churches the preparations for the festive season begin, we are actually starting a whole new cycle of commemorations and celebrations that will remind us all once again of the pattern of the Christian story, weaving the seasons of faith in and out of Nature’s seasons and the seasons of our own lives.

 

The Christian seasons take us through the whole story of God’s action in the world through Jesus; starting with the waiting and anticipation of Advent.  Just as in nature, the great story of rebirth starts with the invisible and yet all important underground development of seeds and roots, so the great event of Jesus’s birth which we will celebrate at Christmas started thousands of years before, as seeds of prophecy and roots of hope and expectation started to develop in the Jewish tradition, looking forward to a time when God would do something radically new and yet rooted in all that he had so far revealed in the books and writings and oral traditions which eventually went together to form the Hebrew scriptures – what Christians have called the ‘Old Testament’.  Each week in Advent has a different focus as we look at how those ancient prophecies and people led up to what happened that first Christmas.

 

And just as in Nature, the changing seasons bring changes of colour in our Churches, which help to remind us of the journey we are taking together.  Many churches use altar cloths and other hangings in the seasonal colours to reflect this.  The colour of Advent is purple; a colour of solemnity as we enter the dark days of winter and the long period of waiting.  And when at last the white and gold of the Christmas festival takes over it will shine all the more brightly against the background of Advent, just as reunion after a long absence, or planned extravagance after hard saving, is all the more joyful in our everyday lives.

 

In historical times, when few ordinary people could read or write, the pictures and colours and symbols in our churches acted as a constant reminder of the Biblical stories that people couldn’t read for themselves.  And today, they still touch us at a level we can’t always explain.  The stories graft themselves into our lives as we re-live them year by year, changing us and the way we see the world, just as the stories told by our parents of our unremembered childhood days become grafted into our own memories and become part of the way we see ourselves.  The light of a candle piercing the darkness at Christmas midnight says more than a halogen bulb ever could about the way even the smallest glimmer of hope can pierce the surrounding gloom.

 

For many people, Advent and Christmas this year will be a difficult time.  It is hard to think about celebration when money is tight and likely to get tighter, and job losses may be in the offing.  It can make us feel ‘out of sync’ with the commercial spend-fest which seems to be going on all around us and pours into our homes and family lives every time the television is switched on.  But the real spirit of Christmas  was born in doubt and fear; in poverty and homelessness, and it can still triumph over all of these and anything else the world can throw at us.  It isn’t those who are at the bottom of the heap who are out of sync with that, but those who let the comfort of their lives insulate themselves from the promise that God is with us.

 

Rev’d Karen Spray.  01392 877400   church@revdkaren.org.uk


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