Typically, the month of December is a time of frenzied preparation for Christmas celebrations: children posting their letters to Santa, everyone rushing to send out their heartfelt Christmas greetings, buy and wrap gifts, decorate homes, order party food, and so on. The tragedy is that we spend so much of our lives unprepared for Advent, the hope of God-with-us breaking into our chaotic lives. The story of the first Christmas declares how God breaks into our darkness and suffering – taking on flesh, blood and tears. Advent starts amidst darkness and suffering and chaos, but is a journey into light and hope and new purpose as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus our Saviour. This glorious event utterly changed the world in love and that is well worth celebrating. The greatest hope of many hearts this year is that Christmas will not again be cancelled but can be saved, so we can celebrate together with family and friends. As a nation, we invest so much into Christmas celebrations – so much of our time, our money and our hope is wrapped up in the tinsel and sparkle that we rely upon to lift our wintry hearts.
Speaking of tinsel and Christmas parties reminds me to use our Christmas crackers this year: seriously folks, I bought a box of crackers 4 years ago which still remains unopened! Oops! In the spirit of “waste not, want not” I am determined to use them this year without fail. Did you know that the Christmas cracker is a very British tradition? It is commonly accepted that Tom Smith of London invented crackers in 1847 as a development of his bon-bon sweets which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). It is claimed that he added the “crackle” element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on a fire. The other elements of the modern cracker—the gifts, paper hats and jokes—were introduced by Tom Smith’s son, Walter.
Try not to rush around too much this December. Make time to reflect, wait, watch and hope during Advent, and then enjoy happy Christmas celebrations that really go off with a bang!
Reverend Anthea Wickens
Our harvest celebration this year supported Farm Africa, which is aiming to boot out hunger.
Farm Africa reduces poverty in eastern Africa by helping farmers grow more, sell more and sell for more.
We decorated our church with wellies filled with flowers.
“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there” – Home Thoughts from Abroad by Robert Browning
“April is the cruellest month” – The Waste Land by T S Eliot
I’ve never thought much about the significance of these famous quotations about April, but both these poets, Browning and Eliot, express in their different ways how precious our springtime is, and so remind us of last year’s glorious Spring which lifted our spirits during those weeks of the first lockdown. Both express the sadness in missing out on the experience of all the new life bursting forth, whether one is abroad, as Browning was, or imagining, as Eliot did, a land wasted and devastated.
Eliot’s strange and complex poem apparently alludes in part to the legend of the Holy Grail quest, where the land of the Fisher King is barren and sterile until the Grail is found. An April without Spring would be cruel indeed, and although Eliot would not have meant it as such, his words can be seen as a warning to us of ecological disaster. In our latitudes the Easter message of the renewed hope we need has always been linked to the Spring.
“Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green”
From the hymn ‘Now the green blade rises’ – J M C Crum
As part of my Advent reading, I came across the theme of ‘Journeying with the Magi’. Despite the paradox posed by travel restrictions I was surprised how it speaks into our current situation. Matthew tells us the Magi observed a bright star, which led them to set out together on a journey of discovery, leading eventually to the squalor of a stable in Bethlehem where a new-born baby was laid in a manger. We don’t know how many Magi there were, or how they travelled, but clearly their journey was of paramount importance to them. They sought neither material nor financial gain. They journeyed far, following the star, wanting only to present their gifts and pay homage to the new king whose birth was heralded by the new star in the heavens.
So then, as we isolate at home due to Covid-19; as our nation prepares to isolate itself behind new borders due to Brexit, and as the United Kingdom itself seems less and less united, what is the Magi’s spiritual significance for us in these strange and troubling times? Esther de Waal knew nothing of Covid, Brexit or Devolution when she wrote these words: “The Advent journey is, or should be, an inner journey or pilgrimage inspired by the Magi who saw themselves as guests of the world, ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them…seeking their true self in Christ”.
I hope you all enjoy your Advent journey, inspired by the Magi. My prayer is that we may always walk on common ground with all God’s people (yet do so safely for now, until a vaccine is available!)
On behalf of myself and my husband Alan, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Spirit-filled Advent, a joy-filled Christmas, a profound Epiphany, and a very healthy, happy and peace-filled New Year. May the birth of Jesus be a really fantastic blessing to all the waiting world, bringing hope of much better times to come. May God our Maker, Saviour and Sustainer bless us all and keep us safe.
Your friend and Minister, Rev. Anthea Wickens
On the afternoon of Pentecost Sunday, 31 May, Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church will be holding a special online service. The service will be available to join live at 4 pm and the recording will be available afterwards for those unable to take part at the time. See wessexsynodurc.org.uk/synod-worship-for-pentecost/ for further details and a list of things to find beforehand for the interactive part of the service.