Stanwick Group of Churches

December 2020

What a strange year it has been. We have found ourselves in a strange land of loss and sudden endings, with work, school and university changes, dreams ripped away, hopes dashed, birthdays, weddings and holidays cancelled and funerals re-imagined. A land of hoarding, of bulging larders and empty food banks, of greed alongside generosity and deeds of amazing giving and self-sacrifice that have shown our humanity at its best and its worst. We have had to get used to living in a dark, lonely virtual land of screens and digital communication and learn to adapt to and appreciate the use of Zoom which enabled people from all parts of the benefice to take part in our All Souls and Remembrance Day Services and which continues to provide access to Sunday worship. We now look forward to Christmas, in continued darkness, anxious, isolated, and increasingly desperate to have life return to normal so that we can enjoy everything just as it was. This year Christmas will not be as we have ever known it before and however desperate we may feel, celebrations in our Churches and in our homes cannot be as they have always been and any gatherings that we are able to arrange will be once again on Zoom. For many people, however, the shopping trips for gifts, the parties and meetings with family and friends need to be starting now. They feel they’ve waited long enough. It’s been a long time in isolation and darkness, searching for some light and after all it IS Christmas. They want to get on with it, they want to start the celebrations now and the danger is that some time before the big day somebody will say “blow it, let’s all have a party.” However, saying” Boo” to the virus and getting on with the party can only end in tears, in sickness or worse and on the big day there will be no celebration at all.

The question is what can we do about this prevailing mindset that can only lead to disaster? How can we help to keep our families, friends and Christmas itself safe so that we will all be able to celebrate it on the day wherever and in whatever form it is allowed? Perhaps, this year, the answer lies in seriously keeping the traditional penitential season of Advent. From ancient times Christians kept fasts before they dived into their feasts. They didn’t take the waiting out of wanting. They knew that a period of waiting, preparation and some thought would make the feast all the better when it came. So Perhaps this year more than ever the season of Advent shouldn’t simply be the start of an extra long drawn out totally self-indulgent alcoholic version of a very special celebration day in December or the watered-down version we sometimes follow, but an Advent with all its original disciplines of preparation and study and where there is an acknowledged spiritual and physical need for space and time to consider our lives, responsibilities and relationships. Beginning with the four Sundays before Christmas, let Advent take us slowly and through the Bible story and remind us of how we got into this pickle we have come to call life and how God’s plan to join us in it and raise us out of it came to pass. The appropriate readings from the Bible are heard at a traditional Carol service. In Advent the prophets call us to a new way of living in preparation for the coming of our Saviour, the kind of living worthy of what Jesus called the Kingdom of heaven, a living that will transform us into active assets for bringing in that Kingdom, full of the life of Christ himself with the promise that he will be with us every step of the way. So, four Sundays, four themes and sets of readings, four candles to light in our homes and windows to speak of justice, peace, faith and love. We can look for safer ways to buy the presents and food and Isolate and communicate by writing cards and messages, or telephoning a personal greeting and we can take the time to look at ourselves, our lives and our relationships. To appreciate again the many gifts we have been given and thank God for them, for his Son, and his spirit which continues to comfort and sustains us. For the people we’ve perhaps begun to take for granted and above all to be willing to learn and to change our ways, if necessary, to reach out and reconcile differences and to reconsider our own stewardship and responsibility for God’s creation. Do we abuse it or work to conserve it?  This Advent, save Christmas until the day and help to keep it and everyone safe. In the meantime enjoy the peace now as we give Christmas the best chance it can have of remaining safe and well with its twelve days of feasting and its promise of a peace that surpasses all our understanding. May that peace be with you all now and remain with you in the coming year. Let us keep Advent and help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Be still and know that I am God, are words that sustain me. This virus won’t have the last word, the light WILL soon destroy the darkness. Remember we are waiting for a Saviour who has walked in darkness, died, and defeated death and as the celebration of his birth comes to pass may I wish you all a happy, safe and blessed Christmas.

Doreen Liston

Licensed Lay Minister / Reader


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