From the minister’s Christmas tree

Rev Phil Simpkins, who I was at college with, used to be at Seaton which is still in my pastoral charge. He used to love having ,a huge tree. Seaton is quite a bit higher at the rear of the sanctuary than the front and Phil landed a tree each year that touched the roof. Here the tree at Wesley House, the manse, will be more domestic than the enormous offerings at Seaton.

I mention all this because last year we ended up with an even bigger tree. Last year we did something we had wanted to do for a while. We wanted to do something different for Christmas. We went to stay in a cottage at Rousden, near Seaton. and because we went there I was able to do all the services. Rousden has huge grounds
and is like a stately home divided into houses or apartments. It was a grand old pile and the hall and landing of our cottage had a large open staircase which was temporary home to the sort of tree you find outside a town hall. It was decorated and full of lights and even in my ancient years it was magical. It was a late booking and the owner asked if we minded a tree because some people don’t approve. The Christmas tree of course is not a Christian symbol, there was not one in the stable but when you see one you know what month is coming into view.

Each year I invite people to think of the events of Christmas 2000 years ago. Ordinary individuals lived through extraordinary times and some were affected long after angels and shepherds had packed up and gone home. The grasp and understanding of what people were hearing is something to ponder.

Their fears and hopes would be a private matter as they weighed up their sanity and trust in what they had just seen. It’s a very human story. It also shows people who were not in a hurry to be tricked. Zechariah is not impressed by what the angel said and thus he is silenced to get a grip on God’s word, which said John the Baptist was coming to join the couple. Mary and Joseph seem to be more willing to humour their messengers. Mary particularly loses herself in worship. Luke 1:46 “My Soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…..”. It had a bit more gravitas than today’s swearing, on realising pregnancy cometh among the young. There is quiet obedience and when Zechariah confirms Elizabeth’s name for their child is John, he finds his voice and praises God. The people of Judah found voice and wondered what this child was to be. John’s prophetic word and ministry of forgiveness builds a people ready for Jesus.

Mary and Joseph along with many others had upheaval and discomfort, a census is no great excitement now but then it meant going home to register and a pregnant wife was not of interest to the officials or the hotel industry. One kind gesture though is remembered for all time – a stable. And as God joins in the most human experience
of all – birth, the couple are in the most poor yet natural of surroundings. What was going through their minds as God’s Son rocked up there for his first night.

At the same time the Shepherds’ day is done and they settle to chat about the ordinary things of life. It’s a night like any other, but not for long. An angel appears to them, the glory of the Lord shone around and understandably they are out of their comfort zone. But the night is young. They get quite a show and given reassurance, location and identity of a child it’s not time for sleep. The men get a company of heavenly host as backing group to the angel praising “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” When they get their breath back they agree to visit this well connected child. They are the first visitors to the family and like so many visitors they spread the word of a birth.

The wise men come much later but their observations of the star had already taken place. They perhaps are not waiting on a Messiah but they travel many miles to venture a look. You marvel at these people and their unexpected favour.

Scripture Union a few years ago raised eyebrows by publishing a booklet that omitted bible references. I’ve not seen it but it seems a bold and practical exercise. Sometimes we need to simplify the biblical accounts and also think how they would be regarded if they happened today. We are all ordinary people and these well known characters were just the same. The one difference between us and them was their knowledge, hope and expectation of a coming saviour. That is not generally on modern minds. The cast of the nativity were better informed and knew their revelations heralded something incredible. They also waited a while longer to see exactly who would roll up from the crib in Bethlehem.

If we can bring that curiosity to earth in the present, then the ordinary life of many will take a whole new direction. This means something, let it be known. Last year the huge tree gave us a different perspective. You could sit at the foot of it, and looking up you suddenly felt small. It went through two floors and when you curled up, the house felt enormous. The tree stretched through it and joined the top with the bottom. The coming of Christ brought a similar effect between heaven and earth. Christ is with us!

A very Happy Christmas to you all
Brian, Sara, Charlotte, Emily and Flora