Vicar's Letter December 2017



Dear Friends


No option but to admit that it's coming! It always seems earlier each year but Christmas day still falls on the 25th December. It's the one Christian festival that everyone seems to observe. But also perhaps the hardest for Christians truly to grasp – and even harder for the uncommitted to enter fully into the Christian festival, rather than the absurd veneration of Santa Claus.


It is right that we should remember St. Nicholas, with his calling as a giver of gifts. What more natural than the greatest giver of all – God himself – calling one of his saints to set an example of giving. His giving, though, was not an intra-family competition about who gives the most imaginative or the most extravagant gifts. His giving was to people in need. So should our primary giving be at Christmas-tide. Let's try and remember that on Black Friday; and even within our families, let's ask the question, is this gift needed?


Music in the shops is already becoming “Christmassy.” Or so it's said – because not all of what identifies as belonging to Christmas is being thought of as related to Christ, let alone to Mass. I'm not saying that a visit from a bearded stranger bearing gifts is a bad thing. I'm saying that God has an even better gift in mind, the gift of his Son. So let that be the focus of our singing as we carol away. I was amused to see one definition of “carol” as being “a happy OR religious song” as if “happy” and “religious” were somehow quite incompatible! Let our singing of carols, whether within our own worship or as we sing to others outside the Church, indeed be happy, but I hope we acknowledge too, the religious element.  And that you will be brought up short by some of the words, notwithstanding the familiarity. We are not just celebrating the birth of a baby who looks much like any other. We celebrate God coming to mankind.


So please look again at the words of the Carols that are so familiar. “Lo, within a manger lies He who built the starry skies” for example.  I've no problem with scientists telling me that the “building” of the stars was a “natural”  process covering millions of years following a bewildering set of rules. But - the one who did the building in that way, being a human baby?  That, surely, should make me stop and think, is that possible? Isn't that “just” poetry, nonsense poetry at that?   Or is it true? That truth lies at the very heart of the Christian Good News. And it seems to me harder to take in fully than believing in the Resurrection. It's not enough to find the carols nice to sing; we are challenged to believe in the extra-ordinary, the humanly impossible. And to allow that belief to change us and our view of the world beyond recognition, to let God's Spirit into the whole of our lives. The result will undoubtedly be the peace and goodwill of Christmas. But it will not be peace that we have made, goodwill that comes from us. We can manufacture a holiday season; only God can make Christmas.


So come and sing! Join in our Carol Service on the morning of Christmas Eve, the Crib service that afternoon, our Christmas Day Communion (later this year than previously at 11.00 a.m.)  Many of you will be wanting to celebrate at Midnight on Christmas Eve. In a Team of 15 churches, we have to be selective about where we have that particular celebration and this year you will need to come to Eastington Parish Church at 11.00 p.m. for that. Please think too, about sharing your celebration of the Christmas season, by supporting the Civic Carol Service (Saturday 16th December, 11.00 on the Town Green) and the Carol Singing that we shall share with the other churches in Stonehouse (for example at the Hazelwood Day Centre at 12.45 on Wednesday 13th December, at the Woolpack on Saturday 16th December at 8.00 p.m. and/or the Stonehouse Court Hotel on Christmas Eve at 7.00 p.m.) Be aware of all the possibilities for enjoyment this Christmas. Watch out too, for the chance to  proclaim the GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST.


Charles Minchin