So lockdown Christmas – the preoccupation of planning from Remembrance Sunday! We started by thinking about a one service in four sites (our four churches) approach using zoom technology but soon realised that we almost had the technology to do this but not quite and the not quite is enough for disaster – so we ended up with three simultaneous services in Easton, Martyr Worthy and Itchen Abbas led respectively by myself Gerry Stacey and Tim Clapp. We zoomed the service from Easton.
So we had full houses in each church – around 30 and about 25 screens on line – so 115 altogether – so just under the usual attendance on Christmas Day in the Valley.
All the churches were decorated totally beautifully by the wonderful teams in each village – Christmas Trees covered in baubles and candles lit throughout – just amazing. Thank you so much to all involved!
Thank you to all those who read, prayed and managed the technology – quite a feat and worked pretty smoothly so far as I could see. Thank you so much everyone for social distancing and wearing masks at Easton we did a good job of humming melodically.
At Easton I gave the following talk:
Christmas Day Sermon 2020 – A Christmas like no other
What would be the perfect Christmas for you? What elements are there to the perfect Christmas? Perhaps family stockings/presents, the turkey and food, the anticipation, church may be…?
Christmas is often a time when we seek to make things perfect.
Depending upon your disposition, you may have been dreaming about your perfect Christmas for much of the year. Older Parents may have been so looking forward to spending time with their adult children and perhaps grand children. Younger parents may have been so excited about making Christmas perfect for their young children. So many have been decorating their houses to the rooftops with Christmas paraphernalia.
Letters may have been sent to Father Christmas and so many of us make huge efforts to get exactly what those that we love would like, to show how much we love them. What on earth do we get for Uncle Jerome and Aunt Agatha who are bubbling up with us this Christmas?
Then there is the food and all its preparation, loads and loads of it cooked over days and days…
And don’t we need a perfect Christmas this year of all years, after Covid and lockdown and all the challenges that it has brought with it? So an extra special effort will have been made.
And then the new lockdown rules came in to force…..
One family I know were going to spend Christmas in Scotland together. Now vast quantities of fish pies and lasagne are in Hampshire and piles of Smoked salmon and dog food in Scotland, And never the twain shall meet!
Whats more there are loads of families desperately coming up with new ideas for food for today because they were expecting to be somewhere else this Christmas and there are no turkeys left for love or money. We should know, we have tried looking!
So, for many of us, our dream of a perfect Christmas has already been shattered.
But, even without lockdown, Christmas can actually be very challenging. Uncle Jerome says something inappropriate in the presence of a hyper sensitive teenager, who storms off to their room. Aunt Agatha just can’t quite resist saying how she used to do Christmas so much better than it is done today….And then getting the kids off their mobile phones….it’s enough to drive anyone into an early grave…And then everyone expressing a view on how the government Is handling the pandemic…not to mention Brexit….
So Christmas doesn’t always turn out as perfect as we had hoped….I suppose it can be a bit like having a baby. Before the labour its all birth plans and whale music but then when It actually happens….
But, you know, the first Christmas was not perfect. In fact it was far from perfect in so many respects. We have to cope with Government guidelines on socialising…but Joseph and Mary were required by the enemy power who controlled their country to leave their home In Nazareth and walk the long journey to register for a census in the place that Joseph’s family came from, Bethlehem,100 miles away.
Even more difficult she was eight and a half months pregnant and she should not have been travelling at all….
But worse, according to Luke, they weren’t even married: a total disgrace in those days to have a child when you were unmarried, even if you were engaged. I expect the disgrace in Nazareth was bad enough, but going to a place where they did not know everyone so well….But scandal would have travelled fast ….
Is it any wonder all the inns were closed to them? Maybe it was not that the inns were full but that they closed to ‘people like them’….So they end up in the stable…
I don’t know if you have been to Wintershall in Surrey where they do a living re-enactment of the Nativity with adult actors and live animals. On a cold and wet winter’s evening you get a real sense of what it would have been like to witness the birth of a baby In the working stable of an inn…..the steam coming off the animals the cows, the donkeys and the horses….shuffling about in the stalls and all the poo! And then into all this mess and chaos comes the baby…
No whale music there…all Mary’s plans confounded in the messy consequences of being an outcast, being seen as a sinner.
But what a baby! God himself, the Creator of the universe. The one who made you and who made me and made everything In the universe; come to Earth to share our humanity, to share the messiness of our lives…as a baby…
The incredible nativity story tells us so much about God and about us. The humility with which the creator of the universe comes to earth In poverty, as an outcast.
Why would he take on the suffering and pain of being human? Why would he step down from his position of greatness to take on the mantle of a dependent vulnerable baby born in a stable?
This image of God is repellent to other religions who see God as something lofty and distant unsullied by the squalidity of humanity.
But why would he do this?
It can only be because he loves us. Because he loves you and he loves me.
What is so astonishing about this Is that we are not all that loveable: We are all selfish to a greater or lesser extent, even though we may be good at concealing it as we get older. Although we may have good traits, we often behave precisely as we want regardless of others.
But right from the beginning God had a plan which involved carrying, taking responsibility for, everything that we do, every sin which separates us from God the Father. And by dying on a cross to achieve this (even though we have done nothing to deserve this), so that we might not be blocked from knowing our creator and in knowing him, might be transformed now and for eternity….In the words of Paul in Romans 5:8 ‘God proves his love for us in this: That while we were still sinners he died for us’. That shows who God is, what his character is like and how much he loves us.
The love that God shows us Is based entirely upon his character, not because of anything that we have done to deserve it. That type of love is called grace….
Jesus life shows us how we should follow that model and in turn show grace, undeserved love to our relations, friends and neighbours.
So when we are facing the shattering of our dreams of the perfect Christmas because of this ghastly virus or because of the selfishness of one person or another within the three household bubbles whom we are allowed to meet with this Christmas, in our remaining day of Tier 2, If we think of what Christmas means, If we think of the undeserved love, the grace that God showed us In coming to earth in his son Jesus Christ to rescue us, and love our relations friends and neighbours just the same….then despite all the challenges we are facing now, It may not be a perfect Christmas, but it will be a real one, just like that first Christmas 2000 years ago.
Lucy Pease led us in the following prayers
Let us pray
So the day has finally arrived, no more sleeps. Jesus is with us. Thank you Heavenly Father that the celebration of our King, our Lord, our Saviour can never be cancelled; that in the words of Charlie Mackesy’s fictional Horse: “Love is never cancelled.”
Thank you that you came to earth in imperfect physical circumstances, to be born in a stable, to humbly lie in a manger, showing us that regardless of what Christmas looks like this year, however we celebrate your coming, whether socially distanced with masks on in church, or on zoom at home, that in your sight our imperfect offering of worship is perfect to you because you love us and nothing, nothing will ever change that.
Let the light of that love, your love, always shine in our hearts we pray and we ask you to fan the flames of our love and passion for you until you come again in Glory.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Lord Jesus Christ we ask you to protect us from the spread of the Coronavirus. Have mercy on us, for in you we take refuge. We remember those living in isolation, for the lonely and ask they may know your presence and your peace. God of all comfort we pray for those who are grieving, reeling from the sudden loss of loved ones. May they sense your presence in their suffering, your comfort in their loss and hope in their despair. Mighty one, counsellor, Prince of Peace rid our county, our country and our world from this terrible virus. Deliver us we pray.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Dear Lord, our great healer, we pray for all medical professionals dealing daily with the intense pressures of this crisis. Grant them resilience and compassion for those for whom they care. Help them to lean on you when they are exhausted and protect them from infection. Thank you for all those in the Armed Forces who are helping to roll out the vaccine. We pray that the administering of this can be achieved with supernatural speed, so that once again infection can be controlled and suffering reduced. We ask that you would bring healing to those of our families and neighbours who are unwell or suffering today. We name before you those who are vulnerable and scared, the frail, the sick and the elderly. We pray particularly for Jan Brookshaw in hospital and for the family of Jim Langrish who died this week.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for our leaders, for the World Healthy Organisation, national governments and local leaders, heads of schools, hospitals and other institutions. Grant them wisdom, faith and strength to sustain vital organisations and institutions through this time of turmoil. Thank you Lord that we are largely a compliant nation and that we wish to support one another and care for each other.
Thank for the good news that an agreement has been reached with the European Union. We pray that you will guide the way forward as this comes in to effect. Grant all those involved in the negotiation some peace and restoration this Christmas.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Finally our Father in Heaven, we pray that you would come to sit and eat with every household in this our beloved parish of the Itchen Valley this Christmas. Bring us all your presence, your peace, your comfort and importantly Lord, your joy as we celebrate the birth of your dear Son Jesus Christ who came to save us, to bring healing and to bring forgiveness.
Tim Clapp gave the following talk in Itchen Abbas:
Well good morning everyone and Happy Christmas to you all!
Who of you here enjoys Christmas? Does anyone not enjoy Christmas? Maybe there are a few things that we don’t like? Preparing the Brussel sprouts?
But what I want to know from you is what is the most important part of Christmas?
How about opening presents! That’s right children it’s all about the presents! Yes we like the food and maybe a glass of sherry or two but we all want to open the presents. Now have you all been good and has Father Christmas made a delivery to you? Did you eave him a mice pie? Have you been allowed to open your stocking yet? Do you still have a pile left under the tree to go back home to? It is so exciting!
Well nearly 10 years ago John Lewis launched their famous TV ad “The long wait”. Now widely regarded as the best Christmas ad of all time it told the story of a little boy, Lewis McGowan waiting eagerly for Christmas day. He was sooo impatient and we all thought he couldn’t wait to open his presents. Opening his advent calendar, watching the clock turn, jigging his leg he couldn’t wait and of course Christmas day arrives and what do we see? He runs past all his Christmas presents and goes to his wardrobe, picks up is own present and takes it into his bewildered parents in bed and gives it to them. The parting phrase in the as was “for gifts you can’t wait to give”. Wow we all had tears in our eyes – pass the cleanex somebody.
Well I said that Christmas is all about presents and I wasn’t joking. You see Jesus is Gods gift to the world. In John 3 16, possibly the most well known verse in the Bible it says “for God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son. He gave him to each and everyone of us that we might not perish but have eternal life. God gave us Jesus at Christmas.
There are three things that I want to say about this today. Firstly is that God planned Jesus’ coming from the very beginning. Even in Genesis the Messiah is mentioned and there are many prophecies in the Old testament of Jesus coming. The verse in Isaiah is the one we know so well and sing about but there was another part of the bible that has really struck me recently. Genesis 22 describes the story of Abraham who was told to sacrifice his own Son, Isaac on Mount Moriah. I can’t imagine what Abraham would have thought but of course at the final moment the angel of the Lord calls out and stops him. A well known bible story told in Sunday school but what isn’t told that Mount Moriah 2000 years later becomes known as Golgotha or calvary. God saved Abrahams Son but didn’t when it came to his own.
Secondly note this wasn’t easy for Jesus – Luke 22 Jesus prays to his Father “Lord if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done”. In fact Jesus was so worried that God sent an angel to strengthen him. This wasn’t easy. What an amazing God we have – he gave us his all.
Thirdly and my last point is this was done for you and me. In our recent alpha course a point that was really discussed was God did this for me. He gave his live for each and everyone of us. The greatest gift that anyone could give, so that we might not perish but have everlasting life.
Now what is the best bit of receiving presents? That’s right it is the opening of them. Do you rip the paper off and chuck it over your shoulder of neatly unwrap them, not tearing the paper with the hope of using it again? There is one thing for certain, you don’t get to know what is inside unless you unwrap the present – right. You have to unwrap them to get to know what is inside!
Well here is my point Jesus is our gift, yours and mine, our gift from God that he gives to everyone, today, here and now and we have to unwrap our gift to get to know him. We have to open our hearts to let him in or you will never know what an amazing gift Jesus is. If we don’t unwrap Jesus then we won’t get to see him.
What an amazing gift to receive this Christmas, better than any other gift we will receive today. He won’t leave you feeling slightly empty like another pair of socks but fill you, repair you, renew you and bring a deep love and joy into your hearts. What an amazing gift to receive.
So we will pray now but if there is a tiny spark of curiosity in your heart, or a desire to understand a little more then can I recommend you join the alpha course as it will explain this so much better than I do and God will reveal himself in an amazing way.
Let us pray
Gerry Stacey gave the following talk at Martyr Worthy
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 2:1–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.