These pieces are written each month by members of our clergy team.

December Parish Magazine Leader:

I must confess that I have something of a conflict around the celebration of Christmas, on one level I feel that all the commercial side of the occasion does distract from the power of Christ being born among us as a tiny baby. On the other hand, like most of us, I am culturally used to celebrating Christmas with Santa Clause, tinsel and Andy Williams singing ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’, and what's wrong with that you may ask!

I can't help wondering what Christmas would be like if it was just a pure celebration of Christ's birth. If we lived in a fantasy country where there was simply no commercial side of Christmas, where everything was low key, gentle, discreet, a humble time, not of excess but of profound joy and wonder that a Saviour has been born to us. Would it be a bar humbug experience, a miserable time at the darkest point in the year? Or would we experience something profoundly spiritual? Every family celebrates Christmas in its own way, with its own traditions and customs and we are of course at liberty to observe the occasion according to our own beliefs and values. The meaning of Christmas does indeed change as we get older. I remember asking Dorothy, one of my Church Wardens, sadly long gone, how she was going to spend Christmas? She replied I am going to spend it with my family. This seemed strange to me as most of them had died. When I mentioned this, she said, ‘I am going to spend some part of Christmas day remembering them and reliving all the wonderful and loving Christmas that we shared together.’

How lovely was that! Usually at Christmas clergy wang on about the ‘real meaning of Christmas politely telling people off because they have somehow missed the point of the occasion. Yet, Christmas has always been and will always be a mixture of the profound and trivial, the sad and happy, of joy and of loss, of feasting and hunger, wealth, and poverty, or excess and want. Of the packed supermarket aisle and the baby in the manger, the sacred and the secular. In a way we have to pick a way through all this and find Christ in it, for that was the point for the shepherds and later the wise men, they had to search and find Christ for themselves, as we do. One way to find Christ at Christmas is to recognise a profound truth, that Christ came into the world to save us. As the angels said to the shepherds, ‘for unto you is born this day a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’ Many people believe that the point of Christianity is to turn out nice and good people. However, people of all religions and indeed atheists can be morally good and nice people. Christ wasn't born to make us nice, but to transform us, which is another way of understanding what being saved means. The forgiveness of our sins, the transformation of our nature through God's love, the promise of life in the face of our death, all of this starts with Christ as a baby in the manger and our need of Him. We may well find ourselves thinking about this both at a Christmas service and as we are queuing up at Santa's Grotto with the kids or grandkids.




 November is very much a month of remembrance and reflection. It begins with bonfire night and the remembrance of the defeat of a violent attempt to blow up parliament.  We then move to Remembrance Sunday, a profoundly poignant time when the nation remembers those who suffered and gave their lives in the defence of this country and its freedoms.  November concludes with Advent Sunday, when we remember the people who looked forward to the birth of Christ.  

Accompanying this are longer nights and colder days and as I write this the days do indeed fill cold and dark with the terrible images of war and suffering coming out of the Middle East.  For all of us these scenes of terrible suffering and violence are enough to test anyone's faith in the love of God and the goodness of humanity.  In the above passage we see Jesus warning us, and reminding us, of the true reality of human nature and the dangerousness of nature itself.  The passage begins with Jesus and his disciples visiting the temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple which the passage refers to was built by Herod the Great and completed in 516 BC.  This was the second Temple and replaced the one built by Solomon.  Herod's Temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Clad in white marble it shone for miles around, it was magnificent in its design and proportions and the focal point for Jewish religious and cultural life.  As Jesus walks around this temple he makes a striking prophecy that in years to come not one stone will be left on top of another.  It is hard for us to imagine the sheer shock of this statement, it is probably akin to someone telling us that St. Paul's Cathedral will one day be in a heap of stones.  

And this is precisely what happened.  In AD 66 the Jews revolted against their Roman occupiers and by AD70 the Romans had started an all-out war on the rebels which resulted in the siege of Jerusalem.  The siege was so terrible that when the Romans finally got into the city they were confronted with almost a million starved corpses.  With the city finally captured the Romans went about destroying it including the great Temple, bits of which were carried off and were used to help build the Colosseum in Rome.  The only part of the Great Temple that survived were some of  the foundation stones which pious Jews can be seen praying in front of to this day.  The Al Asqa Mosque with its gold dome now sits on the original site of Herod's Temple  

The destruction of the Great Temple was a catastrophe for the Jewish people and as the New Testament was written after this event it is not hard to see the influence of this traumatic event across the Gospels and some of Paul's letters.  When the disciples then ask for clarity about this Jesus makes a number of predictions which have been borne out down through the centuries:   ·        

* People will be misled by false teaching and false prophets.  History is full of examples of individuals and nations being led astray by false leaders and ideologies both of the left and of the right.  We are naturally susceptible to following alluring and innovative teachings which we believe will solve our problems and the problems of the world.   ·        

* Jesus said that there will be ‘wars and rumours of wars nations will rise up against nations.’  A war took place in every year of the 20th century.  It is estimated that from 1900 to our present time 187 million people have died as a result of war.  Today we see scenes of shocking violence in the Middle East and not to forget in Ukraine, war never seems to end.   ·        
* Jesus reminds them that there will be natural disasters, famines and earthquakes.  These remain a permanent feature of life on earth continuing to blight the lives of many.   ·   

 * Jesus predicts that Christians will be persecuted for their faith in Him.  It is estimated that upwards of 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith over the past 2 millenia with 5,621 being killed so far this year.  This, Jesus says, will result in acts of disloyalty and betrayal between family members.  

All of the above does indeed make for grim reading, but Jesus was always honest about life and the realities of our world.  In fact there is no other basis for a genuine spiritual life but truth and honesty. At the end of this passage Jesus calls us to be faithful and to endure to the end. We may not be able to prevent suffering but as we live we are called to be faithful, faithful in our relationships, faithful in our work, faithful in our service of Christ, faithful in our worship and in acts of love and compassion.  At the end of our lives, it is not a matter of whether we have been successful, but whether we have been faithful.  Furthermore, through times of suffering we must keep on proclaiming the good news of God's love in Christ, without this there is nothing to counter the wars, the famines, the earthquakes and the false prophets.   

One person of love, forgiveness and generosity can do much to turn back the hurt and damage of life.  Yes, history is littered with brutality, death and suffering, but in this there have always been men and women of love and hope.  There are countless examples of this, here is just one.  In 1863 Henry Dunnant founded the Red Cross in response to the terrible slaughter he had witnessed at the battle of Solferino where in one day over 40,000 men were either killed or left wounded on the battlefield with little or no medical assistance. This year the Red Cross delivered lifesaving care to over 290 million people across the world.  Henry Dunnant's faith in Christ and his faithfulness to the task that was in front of him was his response to the suffering that Jesus predicted.