Preperation is key
Have your preparations started for Christmas? Are all of your Advent and Christmas services in the bag? As a minister, I always found that good preparation was key for me, just as it was for my parishioners.
One June a few years ago I visited an elderly widow in my parish and found her wrapping all of her Christmas presents six months prior to Christmas Day.
A little puzzled, I suggested that it seemed a little early to be carrying out this task. I was then taken aback by the honesty of her reply.
“Well, I may be dead by then and at least this way they’ll be able to have a good Christmas after they have buried me.” I toasted her foresight with a cup of tea.
You can never underestimate the joy and excitement brought by present giving, nor the expert tactics of children in the run up to the big day.
Our little granddaughter Hannah was anticipating her Christmas presents one year when she asked me, “Granddad, does God know everything?”
Since I am supposed to be the font of all knowledge on Christology I replied with, “sure”.
I was then knocked for six by this young princess when she said, “Well, I think he’s telling us to go to Toys ‘R’ Us!”
Hannah wasn’t the only one of our grandchildren eyeing up their star presents.
In late November one year, Lucy, our then 3 year old granddaughter, answered the telephone call from my wife Christine.
Lucy was excited and immediately announced, “I’m reading a book Grandma.”
“Great! What are you reading Lucy”? Grandma asked, feeling proud of her early development.
”Argos,” came the confident reply. Apparently Lucy was doing her market research on which toys she expected to receive that Christmas.
The waiting game
It’s moments like these that make me reflect on the Christmases of my own childhood some sixty odd years ago.
Christmas Day for my sister and me was very different to the one experienced by our friends.
Unlike other families the tree in our house wasn’t put up until Christmas Eve and the presents were kept out of our way until the morning, before being placed into a large cardboard box.
Other children opened their presents on waking but we weren’t allowed. We had to wait until afternoon, after the monarch’s Christmas address.
It was then that the family gathered for mum to formally give out all the presents one at a time, with compliments to the giver.
By the time we had received all of our gifts, sometimes two hours later, it was dark. So unlike other children who took their gifts to show friends and family on Christmas morning we had to wait for Boxing Day.
On reflection it seemed to be all about waiting, but it certainly made us more appreciative of the gifts that we received.
The same could be said of all Christians today who may need to wait on the Lord to receive his finest gifts.
Just as we make our own personal preparations for our Christmas, so the church too is called into the Advent season.
It is a time of high expectancy and of feverish preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.
We commemorate in the weeks prior to that day with the patriarchs who reflect hope, the prophets who reflect peace, John the Baptist who reflects love and Mary the mother of Jesus who reflects joy.
What a wonderful message for today – hope, peace, love and joy. Perhaps those are the best four words to sum up what being a Christian is all about.
Away in a manger
For most priests the joy of Advent and Christmastide is the connection with children and families in the many services in church and school.
I once sat in with a teacher at our local primary school who was describing the Nativity story to a year one class.
The little children listened intently about how Mary and Jesus rode uncomfortably on a donkey into the town of Bethlehem.
Here they found that all the normal places of hospitality were full, there was no room at the inn and only a smelly stable with cattle and a manger for the baby’s bed.
To get the message over the teacher explained that there were no toys, no cots and no new clothes. In fact Jesus was born into the world with nothing.
So, ending her story, she asked the children what they thought of Jesus’ birth. But there was no answer since the children were overwhelmed.
So in hope of an answer she addressed an individual child with, “What about you Matty?”
The little lad reflected for some time then replied, “poor little chap!”
School Nativity plays are just magic for me and also, inevitably, a real source of comedy. Gervase Phinn tells a wonderful story in his book Little Gems.
As he arrived at a Rotherham school with the Mayor to see the Nativity play, they were puzzled to notice that all the children were coming out of the building and heading home.
The Mayor said to a young boy, “We’ve come for the Nativity. Where is everybody going?”
“Aaah well, it’s off,” said the little boy. ”Off”? The Mayor repeated.
Aye”, said the child, “Its Virgin Mary’s fault. She’s got nits”.
I felt so proud of our Sunday School when following months of rehearsal by the teachers and many practices, the dress rehearsal was word and performance perfect.
The leader of the Sunday School had invited me to give a little talk before the actual performance to provide a simple explanation of what Nativity represented.
I explained that Christmas celebrated little baby Jesus’ birth. To give some credence to the event, I then added that on Easter Friday we commemorate his death on the cross and on Easter Sunday his resurrection.
Afterwards, all went well with the Nativity play until Joseph, reflecting on my talk, said to Mary “you had better look after him well, for he will be dead by Easter.”
Comedy aside, when you watch the children in their home-made costumes softly singing Little Jesus Sweetly Sleep, there is rarely a dry eye in the audience. This occasion always signals to me that Christmas is soon upon us.
I pray that as a minister, in all your preparation leading to Christmas and with all the demands called upon you, you may give a smile today and be surprised by the joy and love of all who share that journey with you.
The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His Bishop has granted him a licence with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. He is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the north of England.