John, Ray, Ronnie, your Churchwardens and Deputies would like to wish you all a very
To find service times, readings, prayers and NEWS, click the image below to open the Benefice Bulletin for Christmas 2016.
Services for Christmas Eve
3 p.m. – Nativity @ the Farm, Mount Bures
4:30 p.m. – Crib Service, Little Horkesley
6 p.m. – Crib Service, Wormingford
10 p.m. – Early Midnight Mass, Mount Bures
11:30 p.m. – Benefice Midnight Mass, Little Horkesley
Services for Christmas Day
9:15 a.m. Family Communion, Mount Bures
10 a.m. Family Communion, Wormingford
11 a.m. Informal Family Communion, Little Horkesley
One of Jesus’s stories says everything about God’s love, declares Ronald Blythe
WE SHALL most come to life in Advent hymns, which place our dread and delight side by side in words and tunes which help to rationalise, or poeticise, a theology that we find hard to bear. “Wake, O wake! with tidings thrilling,” for example, when neither child nor judge is due, but a bridegroom.
As the four Sundays proceed, so does their solemnity. Nothing can be taken lightly. God is near. Realising how terrifying this could be for us, Jesus tells us a story about a bad-lot son and a forgiving father.
Here, it is the son who approaches, and the father who waits — a father who, like so many parents whose children have led them a dance and left them for years without so much as a letter or a telephone call, has been ever on the lookout for a familiar figure, his thoughts of reconciliation, not of blame.
This father sees a hungry ragged young man staggering home, so frightened of what he expects to hear that he has rehearsed a grovelling speech: “Disown me as a son, make me a servant — it is all I deserve.” The worst thing is that he cannot forget his father’s kindness and understanding: that young men have a right to their mistakes; for this son has been given his share of the family money when he asked for it.
Nothing had been put in his way when he said he was off to the big city. It was: “Take it; it was yours from the beginning. You can do what you like with it.” The son expected his father’s wrath, but would he have come home had he expected his father’s rejection? We sense that he would not have withstood the consequences of his wasted life, would have descended into vagrancy, sickness, and maybe early death.
We see boys and girls in big cities in cardboard boxes at Christmastime, in shop doorways. What parent stares through the window for a glimpse of them? What love was ever shown them? What an adventure it was when these sons and daughters ran off to the city lights.
Jesus’s tale is one of the oldest tales, and yet the most haunting. It says everything that can be said about our returning to our Father’s ways after doing what we like. “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”
The Prodigal Son was a sorry sight, hardly recognisable as the boy who had left home full of high hopes, well dressed, confident; but he cannot be disowned or disinherited, because he is his father’s son.
Ronald Blythe finds magic in the sound of carols on a frosty day
RETURNING from the Advent carol service, there was an added sharpness to the air as we drove down the ancient track to the farmhouse. It was as though a jewelled addition to the forthcoming Christmas music was sounding in the still-leaved trees. The perfection of Charles Wesley’s “Come thou long expected Jesus” hung in the air like a great longing for God. The compression of so much theology and poetry and music into 16 lines became a kind of magic.
The season is both enchanting and frightening. The church year begins with exquisite joy and also terror: Christmas is coming, but so is the day of judgement. I am somehow consoled by lines such as: “So, when thou comest at the last, And earth’s long history is past, May we be set at thy right hand, And with thine own in glory stand.”
Except that these confusions and certainties are now a kind of theological poetry, a past music which one would have to be a first-century George Herbert to understand.
Meanwhile, the horses have been sheltering in the stable on Duncan’s farm, and I, too, find places out of a chilly wind to start the pre-Christmas clearing in the garden. The sky is pale, and at night the car lights seem to pierce an infinity of cold — and there is more to come. The cats have made up their minds to sleep all this out. They like fresh bowls of water, and a ceaseless supply of biscuits. And endless cosiness, of course.
I begin to draw out a new book — just a few lines, as we used to say in our childhood letters. Just a few lines to Australia or New York. Just a few lines to me from people who are saying “Don’t expect too much.” Including a new race of correspondents who no longer put pen to paper. But a few lines from my dear novelist friend; her wit runs ahead of her pen because she has so much to tell me, and I her. Life entertains her — sometimes bewilderingly, mostly lovingly. She is to be a guest at one of the Oxford colleges at Christmas. I believe that this act of worship was first devised at Salisbury in 1918. If not, no letters, please.
When I was a boy, we spoke to relations in Australia on the phone. It cost £1 a minute, and there were such frightening sounds that we could hardly get out a greeting. We were like letter-writers who filled the page with just a few lines. “Is it snowing?” the Australians would ask. “No.” Usually it snows in East Anglia only on Christmas cards.
It was Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and the novelist Charles Dickens, who between them laid the foundation of our present holiday. What they practised miraculously survives. The sounds we have are bells in the church tower, and the till in the market town, which provides an acceptable music.
Back home, on the mantelpiece, there is a plaster group travelling to Bethlehem: a man with a bag of carpenters tools, and a pregnant woman on a donkey. This ornament was called a fairing. It was something won at a coconut shy. All my life this homeless couple have looked for sanctuary as they travel on through the Christmas cards.
Do you remember (or are you too young?) the episode of ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ with Alf Garnett telling his family about the birth of Jesus? He had to be born in a stable, because there was no room for him in the Inn. “Well, it was Christmas” says his wife Else. “Everywhere’s busy at Christmas!” Silly moo, of course – it was the other way round, because Jesus is the reason for the season. As the history books tell us, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, 6 miles from Jerusalem, and as the Bible tells us, this was the fulfilment of God’s promises and prophecies over many generations; Jesus’ remarkable life is also a matter of public record, and so it’s hardly surprising that Christians gather together (mass) to celebrate the birthday of the Messiah (Greek: ‘Christ’). And so the Festival became known as Christmass.
There are people these days who bemoan the commercialisation of this wonderful season, and others who would want to “take Christ out of Christmas”. I’m neither; the fact that God loves the world so much that he sent His Son, born as a baby, expecting to give up his life for the sake of humanity’s eternal future, is so wonderful to me that I want to celebrate it as much as possible – and Christians as much as anyone will take any opportunity to have a good party! Let’s decorate every surface to celebrate the beauty of God’s earth; let’s send cards to show others we care about them, just as God cares about us; let’s exchange presents, large or small, to remember the best present the world has ever had. It’s also a fact that the story of Jesus is told in so many ways at this time of year, and his name is on people’s lips, in homes and on the airwaves more than at any other time – that’s great!
So let’s all join in the celebrations. We hope you’ll want to join us in Church for at least one of the special services, such as the “Christingle” Family Service, the Carol Service, or the Crib Service. And as Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, we have a service to fill that gap between opening the presents and cooking the turkey! New Year’s Day is also a Sunday, so we can make a resolution to start the year well. But if this season is going to be manically busy for you, you might also like to spend a quiet time on your own in Church – it’s always open during the day – perhaps to pray in our new Prayer Sanctuary, by the side altar.
I’ll be praying that you receive and give lots of love, joy and peace, and that there will be room to welcome Jesus, the reason for the season. Have a wonderful Christmass!
Yours in Jesus
Our faces can unwittingly reveal our inner being, says Ronald Blythe
WE USUALLY think of the spirit, or the soul, as being that part of us which is invisible, and which returns to God when we die. But the spirit, or the soul, is often seen. We catch glimpses of it in some unsuspecting face in the street, or in the train, maybe. A stranger, without knowing it, and in some kind of personal dream or state of thoughtfulness, loses his public face and shows his inner being. He doesn’t know that it is happening.
We ourselves do it. We are taken off our guard, as it were, and somebody in our vicinity sees what we ourselves cannot see, unless we are a great artist like Rembrandt, who painted his own portrait over and over again — not because he was vain, but because he wanted to know who he really was.
I remember a friend seeing a portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud: two modern artists who sometimes shock us when they go beyond what we normally think of as a likeness.
Some time ago, on TV, I watched a pope’s funeral. By courtesy of modern communication, we have sometimes been witnesses of such a revelation of the Holy Spirit as no previous age could have experienced it. There is the Eternal City itself; there are the countless spiritual faces; and there is the Spirit of God, sometimes seen both in Muslim and Christian cultures. In kings and presidents, and choirs and priests, in backpackers and pilgrims, and in ourselves, as we watched, this televised universe of flesh and Spirit.
The Spirit is common among us, but never commonplace. It is simply wonderful and beautiful in whoever it is revealed. It sometimes travels around, invading spiritual privacy for the sake of spiritual recognition. At Pentecost comes this Holy Spirit, not a gentle wispy thing but a tumultuous aspect of God and his Son, which shakes the house and fills the world with fire and revolution, and a human heart with beauty and love. It was at that moment that the little group of Christ’s friends and apostles received the Spirit as a gift. And this is still the only way in which any of us can have it — as a gift, but a gift for the taking, like grace.
Few of us remember when we took it, this holy gift, for the first time; it just seems to be in our hands. And it certainly dwells in our faces for other people to see, this spirituality. On certain occasions — it could be at a concert, or in an old empty church when rearranging the flowers, or looking up its history, or when we are in the garden, or at Liverpool Street Station — it will come to us, uncovered, as it were, this Spirit.
Our faith tells us that we are both guarded and activated by it, this Spirit of Jesus. He said that he would leave it with us, that it would be a comfort to us. And it is. He told us to call it the Comforter — what a wonderful name for his Spirit.
I think about this at this time of the year, with Christmas approaching, this child approaching, this festival coming towards us, and winter, too, which, in the Stour Valley, comes usually in the New Year and not before Christmas.
Ronald Blythe commends pottery as a philosophical occupation for humanity
WHEN the Lord and his friends “took the cup”, it would most likely have been a clay cup, not the glorious vessel of the Arthurian legend. But beautiful all the same, like Brenda Green’s pottery. Her work fills the church, as does her voice. The cup in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is a loving cup, which tells us to drain its contents to the dregs, meaning life itself, because its contents are all that we have.
I knew this wonderful poem by heart when I was a boy, and was fascinated to find the poet’s grave just a mile or two from my house when I became a writer, and I would stand by it frequently. Edward FitzGerald discovered the original soon after he lost his faith in Christianity and was looking for a philosophy to replace it. A local scholar was teaching him Persian, and had recommended this ancient poem to him to help him in the language.
The FitzGeralds were Anglo-Irish gentry who came to live in Boulge, a village near Woodbridge; but their fine house was pulled down long ago. All that remains is Edward’s resting-place, and some rose trees from Omar’s tomb in Iran. The roses were decimated by tourists who picked them. The last Shah, hearing of this, sent some more, and the Persian ambassador and I replaced them.
It was one of those lightless afternoons when the rooks complained in the trees, and the Rector, Mr Braybrooke, and I waited and waited for the ambassador to arrive. When the electricity failed in the little church, it had to be replaced by paraffin lamps and candles. We were about to go home when a Rolls-Royce crept towards us, and our grand visitor got out. He had stopped for lunch at Newmarket, on the way, he explained. He pulled out a Persian rose and heeled it in; then we all had tea in the rectory. “You English,” he said, “you are so prompt.”
This Sunday, Brenda’s pottery reminded me of a potter in the Rubáiyát,“For some we loved, the loveliest and best That from His rolling vintage Time has pressed, Have drunk their glass a round or two before, And one by one crept silently to rest.”
Chapter 4 of the book of Numbers contains the furnishings of the temple: “And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal,” God tells Aaron. The Christian altar is a long way off. The only bells are on Aaron’s robe, but we hear them down the vast distances of time. As for the cup, it is already on its way to become the one that Jesus held when he said, “Drink this in memory of me.”
The 17th-century lid of our cup is worn thin by worshippers who spoke when Shakespeare was alive. As for spiritual sustenance, there will always be more than enough to satisfy us all.
Our local pots were made for wine or ashes, and were created by the same movement as Brenda makes: she spins the clay in her hands, as life spins in ours, the most philosophical thing that humanity can put its hand to.