There are some things that we have to do on purpose if we are going to do them at all. They will not just happen automatically.
By the time you receive read this issue of our magazine, in church we will have begun what are, for most of us, two of the most intense and hectic months of the year. November begins with the Church’s celebration of the Feast of All Saints’ and All Souls’ normally held when we hold our Services of Holy Communion on the first Sunday. This is quickly followed the next Sunday by our annual Service of Remembrance; and ends with the celebration of Advent Sunday preparing us for the coming festivities of Christmas and Epiphany. Sadly, the flurry of activity, the pressures and expectations and the sheer burdens of stuff that this time of year brings all make it very easy simply to turn everything into an emotional and commercial feeding frenzy.
Christmas, at least, is usually regarded as a holiday season for most. Maybe it is worth remembering that the word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ – a time set apart as special time of recalling and giving thanks for God’s goodness.
If we are going to keep the ‘holy’ in holiday and the ‘Christ’ in Christmas we will have to do it on purpose. The world out there will offer us sales, not salvation; a piece of the action, not the peace that passes understanding; and a pretty false view of ourselves, not the truth of God’s constant and unfailing love.
Now, I have no particular brief against this secular intrusion. After all, tinsel and turkeys are the very best that our culture has to offer. But from our tradition of faith, we know more, we know deeper, we know that behind all of that is the gentle hand of a loving God who is both constantly reaching out to us to be his eyes, his hands and his heart in our generation. Sadly, it is so easy to forget this.
That’s why I invite you, over the next couple of months, to keep these truths in mind; for we must do a bit more than the ‘culture’ of our present society casually adheres. Find time to pause— yes, pause ! – and pray and remember; and seek the true richness lying at the heart of the Church’s festive celebrations that are ahead.
You will have to do this on purpose if you are going to do it at all— it will not just happen automatically.
ALL SAINTS’ & ALL SOULS’ AT HOLY COMMUNION
Particularly in such secular days, we are still very fortunate to have a fairly strong congregation attending worship on most Sundays. There is no room for any whiff of complacency, of course. Sadly, as elsewhere, too many claim membership of our congregation but allow their place to remain empty. Reasons are no doubt as many as they can be vacuous. There is no doubt however, coming to church can be habit-forming and we all know how difficult it can be once you slip out of the habit to regain it again.
Worship is important. Indeed, nothing is more so; for it allows us opportunity to ponder issues like: what is it that really matters in our life and what doesn’t? Important issues that demand our full and undivided attention. And to help us live through our questioning, Christian faith offers the use of symbols and myths in which, and through which, truth may be glimpsed and known. The bread and wine of Holy Communion are such. So why not make the time to be in church on November 6th for our celebration of All Saints’ and All Souls’? Of course, you will have to do this on purpose if you do it at all. As always, you will be most welcome.
Our Remembrance Service continues to be one of the best attended services of the year— and with good reason. With our military personnel still involved in ongoing conflict in Afghanistan hardly a month passes without human life being lost in the cause of duty.
Whatever we may think about our political involvement, there can be little doubting the bravery and professionalism of our armed services at their best. Sadly, such dedication often demands a high price and it is in that recognition that we proudly hold our Service of Remembrance. It is our opportunity to give thanks for the service and commitment of those whose life has been lost and to associate our concerns and empathy with all who grieve and suffer the pain of loss or are scarred by the wounds of battle. But most of all, we recognise the waste and horrors of war and rededicate ourselves to seeking the ways of peace and justice not just for ourselves, but for all people and nations.
You can help make our Remembrance Service this year even more special and meaningful just by being present. But, of course, you will have to do this on purpose, if you are going to do it at all.
WHY ADVENT ?
Why bother with Advent ? The world out there is already deep into what it calls the Christmas season; and reminders that the big day approaches are in front of us every day. I saw my first Christmas decorations in shops in late September ! By the time this magazine is published there will be no where to look without seeing signs that Christmas is nearly upon us.
Except, that is, in church. Here, while the world decks itself in coloured decoration and tinsel, we stand apart, hearing strange stories about John the Baptist and the end of the world. Not a peep about Mary or Joseph until the 24th. As the world’s ‘Christmas Season’ reaches its peak frenzy, in church we light candles on a simple wreath — and wait.
Behind all of this peculiarity lies a wisdom that is at least 1600 years old. The church has always known that real celebration requires careful preparation and not just the preparation that focuses on flim-flam (like Christmas lists etc) but on the actual meaning of the celebration.
Do remember, at Christmas we do not celebrate Jesus’ birthday. (We actually have no idea when that is !) Instead, we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation— the ancient belief of God becoming a human being and sharing, not just our circumstances, but the very reality of being a person. God becomes part of our human experience. This is in no small way the decisive event in human history. For people of faith, things will never be the same because of it.
Advent is about trying to wrap our minds around this reality. It is about how people believed God came to us in the past, how he reaches out to us today and how he will continue to come into our life’s experience in the future.
That takes some reflection. It takes some effort and that take time. Advent offers us that time and calls us to patient waiting for the gift that can change everything— if we but allow it.
So let’s be different. Let’s use the weeks of Advent to come together, wait and pray and then, eventually, accept the gift of Love that awaits only our response.
Yes, you’re right. You will have to do this on purpose — if you decide to do it at all !
Enjoy a challenging and purpose filled Advent !
And may your celebration of Christmas bring you, and yours, cause for great cheer, peace and blessing.
Jim Gibson, Minister of Bothwell