Clergy letter for December

Dear all

Christmas is coming!

Are you excited? Or are you feeling a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol whose attitude was "Christmas? Bah! Humbug!"

Or perhaps it’s a bit of both. We all know that Christmas is a time of celebration. The problem is, that for many, it's not that much fun. It's a time for family, we are told, yet the rate of marriage breakdown goes up at Christmas. It's a time for the children we are told, yet the financial pressures at this time of year can be impossible to handle for many. The presents that we are encouraged to buy our children – and the presents they want – always seem to be the expensive ones. And, personally, I can't help but wonder how many trees could be saved if I didn't get all those free Christmas present catalogues that fall out of magazines or come unsolicited through the door. It's a time when there are many who will be alone and have no-one with whom to celebrate Christmas. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come,” we will sing, and yet Christmas can become a remarkably depressing time of year, and it's tempting on occasion to feel some sympathy with Scrooge. Christmas, and the run up to it, is often not a time of great joy at all but a time of great stress.

I know that this is an obvious thing to say, but it's important to say it anyway, as even in a church community it can sometimes seem to get forgotten amidst all the preparations at home, at school, at church: Christmas is about Jesus. Christmas is about God coming to be one of us so that our world might be different, so that we might know God, and accept him as our Lord and Saviour.

To help us get ready to celebrate this amazing event, we have in the Church a time of preparation, from Advent Sunday on 3rd December up until the morning of 24th December. This season of Advent is a time when we reflect on the nature of our world and of our existence, and we get ready to welcome the Light of the World into the darkness that is our fallen world. Advent is a serious time, a penitential season like Lent. It used to be the tradition that on the four Sundays of Advent we clergy would preach on the themes of Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven – serious things indeed! The world around us may be caught up in the commercial side of Christmas, and we have to deal with that. Every year I hear people complaining that Christmas is too commercial these days. I can see their point, but there's no sense in complaining when as Christians we need to engage with people where they are – which is why we have a Christmas tree that goes up during Advent and we will be singing carols that celebrate the birth of Jesus long before Christmas Day – though our crib, unlike many in homes around Caterham, will not appear until after the morning service on Christmas Eve, as the morning is still Advent! But Advent, our time of preparation, serves to remind those of us who follow Jesus, that we are dealing not with a nice story about a baby being born, but an event of eternal significance. Our readings in church and our sermons will remind us of this.

Advent is about us getting ready to bring the birth of Jesus more fully into our own lives, into our local community and the wider world, as we reflect on the meaning and the reality of salvation, what it means to respond to Jesus, and where we will spend eternity. Over the next few weeks, allow the Advent themes to speak to you, to remind you of what it is all about. Getting ready for Christmas can be a pressurised time. Getting ready for the birth of a Saviour reminds us that we are celebrating a life-changing event and will help us to get everything else into perspective. Put Jesus into your Christmas preparation.

The patron of our church, Saint John, wrote "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have seen his glory." May you see his glory in your lives during Advent, and have a truly blessed Christmas.

Father Jerry

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