14th January 2021

Dear friends,

While we were on leave last week, we took our Christmas decorations down. This always leaves me feeling a little blue, partly because many of the decorations have memories attached to them, so it’s a thought-provoking time as we put them away for another year and remember Christmases past. Yet, the bigger reason is that while we hold on as long as possible before we put the decorations away (we certainly don’t hold to any superstitious ideas that they have to be down before 12th night!), it seems so many people can’t wait to clear them away, some as early as Boxing Day! I imagine that if one’s decorations have been up since the middle of November, then by the 26th December, folks are probably are sick of the sight of them. But this is where they’ve become so detached from the Christian understanding of Christmas. In secular terms, society sees Christmas Day as the endpoint, but in Christian terms, Christmas Day is just the beginning of a season which, combined with Epiphany continues until the feast of our Lord being presented in the Temple, which we keep on the 2nd February, and is otherwise known as Candlemas. By rights, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t leave our Christmas decorations in place until then, but even as much as I love Christmas, I’ve never been tempted to go that far!

Naturally, the essence of Christmas isn’t even over at Candlemas. How can it be? Christmas is Immanuel, God with us – that never ends. Whilst we focus on the rest of Jesus’ earthly life throughout the year, none of it would have been possible without that first Christmas. As the months pass by, we travel and learn with Jesus, and hopefully continue to grow in our love for him. All of which helps us to understand our heavenly Father’s infinite love for each of us as we come to Holy Week and Easter, and realise the enormous sacrifice he made in giving us his Son to die for us all. And there the cycle continues, because without Jesus’ resurrection, Christmas would have no meaning in the first place. It serves as a good reminder that none of the Christian festivals take place in isolation, but rather as an on-going rhythm in our lives.

You may recall that back in November I planted some bulbs and corms and was a little discouraged by how dead they looked. Well, I’m delighted to say that even with my novice green fingers, in just two months they have started to shoot (the Monty Dons among you might be worried about frost and if you think I should cover them, please let me know!). What has struck me is just how quickly God rewards us for our efforts to grow and nurture his creation. Here we find ourselves in another lockdown, and whilst we don’t have the fabulous weather we enjoyed last spring, nature is still providing us with many sights, sounds and scents to soak-up. It’s as if God knows we need some extra care at the moment and he’s providing it right on our doorsteps. We can often see God in the actions of other people, but let’s not forget to also notice him in the signs and wonders of the natural world – he gave it all to us for our enjoyment.

Earlier on today, I was reading a passage from Isaiah (60:1-7) and the opening two verses really struck me in our current circumstances: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples”. Isaiah’s vision foretells the time when all people are invited to share in the salvation of God. We know that came to pass in Jesus’ birth, and it was affirmed when the Magi visited the infant Christ, making him known to the world. However, I think this passage has much to say to us today; we are undoubtedly living through some very dark times, and yet, our LIGHT has come. As difficult as these times are, we know that God goes before us and we are not alone. We cannot know this and be unchanged. Living with this knowledge hopefully helps us day by day to cope and to stay hopeful. But if it doesn’t, please ask for help; it’s not courageous to soldier-on alone. And even if we cannot be physically together at this time, let us remember the bonds we have as a church family and draw strength from being part of a worldwide community of Christian sisters and brothers. I pray that will enable us all to arise and shine, because our light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Every blessing, Heidi.