Advent and Christmas

Almighty God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your Son.... begins the Christmas Eve collect. The idea is that we should have a four-week season of preparation - Advent - focussed on all that led up to the first coming of Christ (of which the lighting of the four Advent candles is a sign) so that we may be ready for his second coming, to judge the world. This means that in these days there should be, in the lovely words of Richard Baxter, a serious seeking and an affectionate walking with Jesus.

It doesn't quite work out like that in practice, does it? 'Shop-Christmas' (and its modern version 'online Christmas') begin long before Advent. Our preparation is far from calm, and has more to do with presents and food and travel arrangements than with contemplation - which is not to say that presents and food and family visits are a bad thing! But far from being glad that it is a 'yearly remembrance', some will say Oh God, it's that time again. Many mothers, or those with complicated family set-ups, or those who live on their own, are only glad when it's all over. And the church has to go along with this time-warp: every day in Advent there are Christmas carol services somewhere in the City.

Perhaps we shouldn't complain. The dating of Christmas probably began as the takeover of pagan midwinter festivals. So we should not be surprised at the secular takeover of 'our' festival, however much the consumerist messages are at odds with the circumstances of the simple birth of our refugee Redeemer (not to mention the temporary suspending of what's good for our health and the environment of the planet). The economy depends on our spending! We should also pray that the huge numbers who attend carol services will be moved to explore the other, more challenging, aspects of the gospel.

But let those of us who are 'year-round' Christians try to hold onto the ideal, and make the most of Advent as a season of spiritual preparation alongside everything else, and of Christmas as a joyful 'yearly remembrance', building on all our experiences of 'Christmas past'.

The poet T.S. Eliot (who was among other things a churchwarden, two volumes of whose letters have recently been published), in a 1954 poem entitled 'The Cultivation of Christmas Trees', having said that

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard,

concludes with the hope that

The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall also be a great fear, as on the the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.

Our own Advent and Christmas services and events are detailed in the Calendar, and are as usual:

We look forward to welcoming you at these occasions!

The Archbishop's Visit, and another special event

The enclosed flyer gives details of the Archbishop of Canterbury's visit on Wednesday 20 January, to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1859-60 ritualism riots at St George's. This is clearly a must for all. The next event in this programme will be on Thursday 18 March, when three leading experts on what happened, and why, will give presentations and join in discussion. This promises to be a fascinating evening - another date for your diary!

Parish joys and sorrows

Congratulations to Paul and Hannah Kellaway, members of our congregation, married here in great style on 7 November. Typically, they planned every last detail of the service and reception with great care. It included a Routemaster bus tour to the reception (in the City) with an accomplished Cockney commentary by Paul. Every blessing for their life together.

There have also been sadnesses recently for members of the congregation. Olive Wagstaff's good friend Paula Wheeler, and Edith Wyeth's cousin Kitty Trumble, both died more suddenly than expected, as did Margaret Powell, Richard's mother (with a funeral in Saffron Walden involving the Rector). Our prayers and sympathy to their families.

We also continue to uphold in prayer Jackie Saward (with Michael, a member of our congregation) and Hilary Oliver (our area bishop's wife), who have bravely shared similar cancer treatment regimes. Bishop Stephen is currently taking three month's compassionate leave to care for Hilary, and Michael has cut down on his commitments to be with Jackie.

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