I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Christmas. Santa Claus? Stockings? Christmas trees? Tinsel? Cards? Presents? These are just a few of some of the traditions that typical British families enjoy at this season. Yet each family will have their own unique way of implementing these. This year our family will have a new dynamic as we fuss over our granddaughter as she experiences her first Christmas. At three months old she won’t remember a thing, but no doubt some new traditions will be established in our extended family.
One of the traditions that I hope she will grow up to love is Christmas Carols. At Life Church we try and blend together a mixture of old and new as we sing joyful songs to celebrate our Saviour’s birth. Many of the traditional carols have been sung for hundreds of years and have their origins in other countries and circumstances.
For example did you know that the Silent Night is reputed to have been written in 1818 on Christmas Eve itself? The legend around this carol says that Joseph Mohr, a Catholic Priest in the Tyrolean Village of Oberndorf near Salzburg was in despair because a mouse had chewed its way through the mechanism of the church organ rendering it useless. Desperate for something to sing at midnight mass, Mohr wrote the words to ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’ and then asked the organist, Franz Gruber, to write some gentle music for it. Gruber put together the gentle lullaby we know so well and accompanied the singers on guitar the same evening. The carol might have been lost forever had the organ repair not made a copy and passed it on to the Stasser Family – a precursor to the Von Trapps – who sang it at their concerts and published it in 1838. Now, almost 200 years later, it features in many Carol Services all around the world.
This Christmas at Life Church we are conducting a survey to find out the favourite carols for people living in Hook. We would invite you to take part online at www.lifechurchhook.org/carols. We have suggested some of the more common carols for you to choose from, though you are free to add a different one if your favourite is not on our list. The most important part of the survey is the reason why you like the carol. Perhaps you have a story to tell about why it is special to you, or maybe you particularly like the tune. When I am choosing carols to sing at various Christmas gatherings I focus on the words. It is great to sing along to a rousing tune, but far better to be sing words that express truth. The truth that Jesus is so much more that a cute baby in a manger; the truth that he is God himself come down to earth in human form; the truth that he is Christ the Saviour.
I would like to invite you to join us for Carols Round The Fire on Sunday 20th December, 5 pm at the Elizabeth Hall, followed by mulled wine and mince pies. We will be announcing the top three carols, and hopefully we will sing yours! Make sure that you let us know which is your favourite for it to be in with a chance of being in the top three by registering your vote at www.lifechurchhook.org/carols
May you know the peace and mercy of God this Christmas.
This blog post featured in the December 2015 edition of Hook Focus
For weeks now we have been bombarded with adverts on the TV and radio, in newspapers and on the internet, all seeking to persuade us of the must have Christmas present for our loved ones. Perhaps you have seen the one for the Mulberry handbags? A young couple are gathered round the fireside enjoying Christmas festivities. The young man hands his partner a box saying ‘I know we weren’t going to give presents’. She opens the present to find that he has bought her a beautiful red handbag. As she is cooing her thanks for such an amazing surprise there is a knock at the door. In troop shepherds and wise men. Each in turn declare their amazement at the beauty and splendor of the bag as a cameo nativity scene develops on the screen. In the final punchline the poor confused young man says “it’s only a bag!” at which point the background music stops and everyone else looks at him like he is out of his mind.
I don’t know the thought process that went into the advert, and whether it was meant to mock those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ at this season. Whatever the purpose the message is profoundly powerful because it clearly depicts how easily Christ is squeezed out of Christmas. A festival which was originally conceived to celebrate the Presence of Christ has been hijacked by Christmas presents. According to The Times in 2013 Britons received more than £2bn worth of unwanted Christmas presents!
As we sing carols, listen to readings and share Christmas Greetings let us not forget that the only Christmas Presence worth having is Christ himself. Yes he was born just over 2,000 years ago and laid in a manger, heralded by choirs of angels, and worshipped by shepherds and magi. But the true wonder of Christmas is that the baby whose birth we celebrate became a man whose death we revere. A Saviour who broke the chains of sin and death. A King who reigns in heaven and has sent us his Holy Spirit to bring His presence to us.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus have the privilege of his presence with us moment by moment of every day. My prayer is that His Christmas Presence will be with throughout the whole of the season, and unlike the unwanted Christmas presents, will remain with you forever.
This blog post featured in the December 2015 edition of Lifelines
By now I expect that you will have seen the Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert. Whatever your views over the appropriateness of the subject matter, the short film movingly depicts a true story of 100 years ago.
The British soldiers departed to the First World War full of optimism that the war would be over by Christmas, yet when Christmas 1914 arrived they were entrenched in a stalemate battle situation. Far from home and without means of communicating with their families in England, they awoke on Christmas morning with only their fellow soldiers for companionship. As they huddled together in the cold and damp, music drifted over no man’s land as they heard German soldiers singing Christmas carols. Emboldened by the familiar tunes soldiers from both sides climbed out of their trenches and exchanged food, cigarettes and souvenirs as an unofficial truce broke out. Eye witness reports record that a game of football was shared with the German soldiers and no shots were fired on that day. In the midst of a horrific conflict – Peace! That peace was tragically short lived and the conflict resumed the following day, and every day thereafter, until November 1918 when the armistice marking the cessation of hostilities was finally signed.
‘Peace on Earth’ was the message proclaimed to the shepherds by the angels the very first Christmas as they announced the birth of Jesus. Yet this peace is very different to what is longed for in times of war. The root cause of every conflict whether it is wars between nations, disputes between neighbours or fights within families is that at heart we are all at war with God. Jesus said that whoever is not for him is against him. So, whether by choice or by default, all of us are by nature enemies of God. The real meaning of Christmas is only found in the message of Easter: that through Jesus’ death, a way is made for us to find peace with God as we receive his forgiveness.
I pray that this Christmas you will discover for yourself the everlasting peace that only God can bring. For it is only when we are reconciled with God that we can be fully reconciled with each other – that is real Peace on Earth!
This blog post featured in the December 2014 edition of Hook Focus