From the Rectory
Recently the Scottish tennis player, Andy Murray, became the first player from our shores to achieve the No 1 position in the world. Hugely talented and disciplined, his emotions are not far below the surface and often spill over during his matches: his iron determination has led him to the peak of his sport. However, a very different aspect of Murray's character was highlighted shortly after he achieved the world number one position in early November. Soon after he won Wimbledon for the first time in July 2013, he drove back to the courts alone; not to relive the glory of his greatest triumph to date, but to deliver a present to one of the locker-room attendants, who was retiring after decades of service at SW19. Murray went to say a personal goodbye and to give him a signed racket that he had used in the Final. What a considerate, gracious and thoughtful gesture; given the immediacy of modern communication where a text or email would have sufficed, he chose to do it in person…
2016 has been a year of challenges and surprises, joys and tragedies; hope and despair. Earthquakes have devastated Rome and New Zealand. Continuing threats from terrorist attacks, the plight of war-weary communities in Syria; migrants and refugees desperately seeking safe havens and a better future weigh heavily upon our consciences as we enjoy our considerable home comforts. As our nation works through the Brexit process, the people of the USA prepare for the inauguration of their 45th President, there is still much speculation and uncertainty ahead.
Christmas is the celebration of God’s love made flesh in Jesus: there might have been other ways of God, following the various prophetic voices of centuries, but God chose to send his Son into the world, to experience our humanity from the inside, real flesh and blood, living as one of us. In the Christ Child, God came for everyone. Preaching about Mary’s response to God’s invitation to carry his Son, Jeremy Davies, formerly Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral, wrote, “Almighty God had tethered himself and his good purposes once and for all to the yes or the no of the beautiful but wilful creatures he had made in his own image and likeness.”
The traditions and complexities of the twelve days of Christmas have increased considerably since Pope Gregory proclaimed 25 December the day of the nativity in 354. From the outset it offered hope and encouragement following the shortest day in the northern hemisphere; and seasonal decorations of natural evergreens quickly became a pagan tradition throughout the Roman Empire. By Medieval times the festival was entirely religious - in 1224 Francis of Assisi produced a tableau in his village church using real people and animals.
Many of the traditions we enjoy today were introduced during Queen Victoria's reign. In 1846 Sir Henry Cole produced the first handmade Christmas cards; a shilling each, not an insignificant sum at that time, and 1000 copies were sold in London. The Christmas tree, originally another pagan tradition, was introduced by Prince Albert from his native Germany; and Charles Dickens described the extravagant decorations - dolls, miniature furniture, tiny musical instruments, costume jewellery, toy guns and swords. Customs and traditions far removed from the simplicity of the Bethlehem birth 2000 years ago.
As you plan your seasonal celebrations, I invite you to worship with us. With my love and prayers, and every blessing for Christmas and 2017.
Fr John - Rector