NEWSLETTER – December 2008
Why are we waiting?
The Church of England's Advent website <www.WhyAreWeWaiting.com> takes the theme of 'putting the waiting back into wanting' and is a kind of Advent calendar with daily reflections, podcasts and 'tips on waiting' – something worth bookmarking. There is a typically thoughtful introductory talk by the Archbishop of Canterbury about making time to wait in expectation, rather than jumping to conclusions about what the coming of Jesus then and now really means. Advent means more than calendars with a chocolate for each day, he says!
Archbishop Rowan has published several books of poetry, and here is one with the title Advent Calendar:
He will come like last
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould
the soft shrouds falling.
will come like the frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like a child.
This paints a sombre picture, with December-type images of bare trees, of cold and wind and ice and snow, of tears in the dark. When Jesus was born, Bethlehem was not locked in the depths of winter weather, but it remains a 'wintry' place, divided by a wall of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians (a wall which another parish in our deanery will be building in symbolic form in church this month). And now the western world also faces a hard winter climate, with deep recession and much uncertainty. So it makes sense for us, who celebrate Christmas at such a season, to set the coming of Christ in a midwinter context, as so many of the Christmas carols do. Jesus is the one who brings light and warmth and the promise of new growth. And he does so by coming into our distracted world like a child.
We will not understand how amazing this is if we sidestep the dark and negative truths about our world and its violence. The swords, the bleeding, the writhing that are part of creation are mirrored in human affairs. And so we imagine that this is the way that it always has been, and always will be, and must be. But the message of the gospel is that it does not have to be like that at all. And the key is not greater violence, but greater vulnerability – the birthpangs of a new age.
Keep Christmas with as much joy and festivity as you can – which does not necessarily mean spending a fortune! It will be good for us in the current climate to keep it more simply, without excess. But first, keep the sombre time of Advent too – a time of serious watching and waiting, confident in the promise that he will come, will come.
Advent and Christmas worship
Despite the message above, secular Christmas has already been in full swing for some weeks. The advertising this year has an undertone of desperation, since the retailers are depending on us to spend our way out of the credit crunch, or at least delay its effects. And throughout December many of us inevitably find ourselves anticipating Christmas with carol services and parties and other 'festive' activities. It's a shame that such events can't be more sensibly spread throughout the year – pity those poor city church clergy who have one or more carol services, for all the different organisations, every day of the month, as well as all the disadvantaged folk – children, the elderly and housebound and those who are homeless – who have attention lavished on them over Christmas but are too readily forgotten for the rest of the year.
Nevertheless, we enter gladly into the spirit of things, and invite you to share joyfully in the programme of special events at St George-in-the-East. On Thursday 11 December the News International carol service is at 1pm, followed by refreshments. Our friends across the way deliberately come to their local church for this event, and their own choir, Wapping Great Voices (who have already given a successful and accomplished concert in church, on 25 November) will be joined by the choir of St Bride's Fleet Street (marking that church's ministry to the the print media) and children from our own school, St Paul's.
We have our own Carol Service on Sunday 21 December at 6pm, for which a choir will be preparing special music – please let Elspeth our organist know if you'd like to be part of this. Although we normally go for a weekday evening, the timing of Christmas this year makes Sunday a suitable date, and we hope that everyone will come and bring family, friends and neighbours, for the service and the celebration that follows.
Last year we held a short and simple Crib Service at 4pm on Christmas Eve, with 'children of all ages' in mind, telling the story and preparing the crib. This was appreciated, and will be repeated this year. And the times of our Christmas services are as usual – the 'midnight' service at 11.30pm and Christmas morning at 10.15am.
Then there are all the school events, listed in the Calendar below, to which all are invited. It would be especially good to have members of our congregation in church on the last morning of term for their end of term service.
Packs of Gift Aid envelopes, for regular and tax-efficient giving – one for each week, but undated – are available at church. If you don't already give by standing order, using these would be a good new year resolution. Forms for one-off and regular giving are also available on the parish website. The website continues to generate contacts from all around the world – including a possible link with the parish of St George-in-the-Pines, in Banff (Canada), whose Rector visited recently. It is also helping a group of architectural students from the University of East London who have an ongoing project on the church and its surroundings. We were represented at a 'food, faith and photography' event organised by Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, and have increasing contact with council-run initiatives. The Rector has recently become a member of the steering group for our Local Area Partnership (LAP4).
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