As Christmas day gallops gleefully towards us I thought it may be time for a more serious reflection than some of the fluffy frivolity of recent days. So here goes…
The ten best things of this Christmas so far (in no particular order):
Hosting carol services and nativity plays for a local school on our premises – lovely to see our buildings being used by the wider community. I especially loved the bit in one of the plays where a vicar (modelled on me?) welcomed people to our church on Christmas day and reminded them that the church was open for the rest of the year too. It was lovely to be invited to (and to attend) a carol service at another local school with whom we have links too, and to organise the Essex University Carol Service.
Shopping for presents – it’s a season for giving after all. It’s all right when people ask you for particular things, but there is something extra special about buying something for those you love that will be a surprise for them. (The only danger is that I get more excited about it than they will on receiving the gifts!)
Get In The Picture – we have got involved in this in a different way this year and hundreds of people have participated and had their photos taken in our ‘end of the pier nativity’. It’s been brilliant fun and I hope has helped people realise that the Christmas story can be enjoyed by everyone, and that there is a place for everyone in Jesus’ story. It has also provided us with the image for our church Christmas card. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped with this.
Carols by Candlelight – a wonderful service of carols and Bible readings. Our choir did themselves proud, the musicians were wonderful, the soloists were brilliant, the readers were great, the candles were atmospheric (if electrical), there were lots of visitors and there was a very special feeling about the service. It flew by (which I think is a good sign). If you want to hear my brief message (perhaps the shortest ever by me) it’s here (Jesus’ family tree).
The Nativity service – our children and young people had worked as hard (or harder) than anyone this Christmas and prepared a service that was special in its simplicity, fun and engaging, thought-provoking and powerful, joyful and triumphant. The highlight (as I have said before) was the acting as Mary encountered the angel – surprise personified!
Christmas lunches – so far I have had three. All were very different. There was a lunch for the older folk associated with our church, in which children from a local school came and sang some Christmas songs. There was a lunch for those who come to our Open Door ministry, including some homeless friends. And there was a lunch for over 100 of our church family after the nativity service. I have been immensely impressed by the skill of our caterers, the service of many people, the fellowship and friendship, and reminded of the importance of eating together. Highlight in this category was when I asked the Open Door friends to join in singing some carols along with recordings. We sang the first two verses of ‘O come all ye faithful’, I gave a short talk and could see that when I announced another song quite a few people were looking fed up. They changed their tune (literally) when they heard the opening bars of ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ by Slade!
Giving Christmas cards to the shops around us. We are very much a town centre church: surrounded by shops. I took copies of our Christmas card (see above) to all of the retailers in Eld Lane (the street on which we are located). It was great seeing the surprise on the faces of those who received the cards and my Christmas greeting. It was even lovelier seeing some of them having stuck the card up on display later in the day.
Anonymous gifts – not so much a secret santa, but I have been able to facilitate giving a couple of generous anonymous financial gifts from a couple of people in our church to others in order to bless them at Christmas – no ‘bah humbug’ here!
Christmas talks – I reckon I have prepared at least eight different Christmas-themed talks / sermons this year so far. Because they are all different it has enabled me to receive a wonderfully eclectic experience of the Christmas narrative this year. My encounters with the baby in the manger have been varied and have inspired me (if nobody else!).
Silent nights – there have been some beautifully peaceful moments when I have been in our church on my own after everyone else has left and I have experienced a mixture of a sense of well-being that the events went well, peace and calm after the activity, but mainly simply a sense of God’s presence and joy – which is what Christmas is all about!
And it’s not even Christmas day yet!!!!