Gifts, baubles and community
The Bishop’s Pastoral Letter for December 2018
As Bishop of Stafford does his Christmas shopping, his thoughts turn to worms and scones.
Christmas seems to get earlier each year.Call me soft-hearted and old fashioned but I do like to take my wife out from time to time and I particularly like to spoil her with a tea and scone at The Range. For those less fortunate who have yet to discover this amazing hyper-store I can tell you that they stock over 65,000 different products and from September onwards half of them seem to be Christmas decorations! Having looked at aisle after aisle I finally discovered two different crib scenes selling at £9 each and also some plastic baubles to hang on thetree with a picture of the Holy Family – a snip at just under £3 and the only acknowledgment of the Christmas Story.
It seems to me that when it comes to Christmas many get their priorities wrong. Perhaps this speaks volumes about our increasingly secularised society where so much that affects our daily living is decided by ‘rational’ thinking without any reference to religious belief.
But there are two aspects of the Christian Festival of Christmas that ‘Winterfest’ will never be able to exclude: the sense of community that bubbles to the surface at this time of year and the giving of gifts.
I know that throughout our Diocese there will be many Christians who will cheerfully spend Christmas Day helping ensure that others have a great time. Sharing our Lord’s concern for those at the margins of our communities, Christmas Lunches will be provided for the homeless or the elderly or any others who would otherwise be spending this special day alone.
In addition, the doors of our churches will be wide open to welcome all those in our communities who do want to put Jesus back into Christmas and who will come to sing their favourite carols and listen to the familiar stories and who will be given a friendly welcome even if they have not been seen in church since last Christmas.
The message of Christmas is for ALL people – no one is excluded from the gift of the love of God personified in the baby of Bethlehem, and through reaching out into our communities in these ways we can encourage others to come to know that love and perhaps welcome Jesus into their lives for the rest of the year and not just that day – special though it is!
The exchanging of gifts at Christmas comes from the story of the Adoration of the Magi and we will be particularly aware of this at the coming Epiphany because in 2019 January 6th falls on a Sunday.Many sermons preached that day will talk about the significance of the gold, frankincense and myrrh although I doubt any will give such a practical interpretation of their symbolism than the 12th century theologian St Bernard of Clairvaux who suggested the gold was to assist the Holy Family with their flight to Egypt; the frankincense to sweeten the air of the stable and the myrrh to get rid of the worms in the baby’s intestines!
It is sad that for many the joy of giving and receiving of gifts and the implicit feeling this offers that people matter to one another seems to have been replaced by the importance of the cost of the gift itself.Yet perhaps this is in itself a reflection of the Christmas Story.
The message of Christmas is for ALL people – no one is excluded from the gift of the love of God personified in the baby of Bethlehem, and through the exchanging of gifts we are not only reminded of the gift of love offered to us and which we are invited to accept, but also of how costly this gift was because it brought the adult Jesus to the cross.If we can help those who come to our churches this Christmas understand the value of the gift of the love of God perhaps they will welcome Jesus into their lives for the rest of the year and not just that day – special though it is!
I wish you a Christmas that is full of joy and God’s love!
The Rt Revd Geoff Annas
Bishop of Stafford