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