Welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. Hope that you are all continuing to keep well and stay safe. Our newsletter will continue to be sent out regularly to help continue to maintain contact and a sense of community while life continues to be restricted. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here. We would love to hear from you and are looking for uplifting and encouraging content to share in future issues of this newsletter. If you have any ideas or content that we can share, please do email them to Louise (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We start with our opening prayer:
Come, let us rejoice before God.
Let us honour the name of the Most High.
God has looked on us, and brought us
to be a people of light celebrating the light.
Our souls magnify God: blessed is the name of God for ever.
Let us lift up holy hands and be glad.
(Taken from Roots)
Reflection from last Sunday: Preparing the way
Reading: Mark 1: 1-8
I wonder; have you ever been sound asleep and then suddenly been woken up when you didn’t expect to be? It doesn’t happen to me very often (thankfully!), but when it does, I sometimes find myself lying there in the dark, wide awake, wondering what on earth woke me up. Sometimes it’s been people singing on their way home from the pub. Sometimes it’s been car doors slamming. But sometimes I drift off to sleep again, never having discovered what had woken me.
For the people of the region of Judah, I think the arrival of John the Baptist might have felt a bit like being woken up unexpectedly. The prophets, who had spoken words of challenge, rebuke or comfort to their ancestors, were just a folk memory from centuries past. The people had learned about the prophets as they studied the scriptures, but never met one in their own days. Then, suddenly, John the Baptist bursts onto the scene.
Mark, the gospel writer, says that everyone from Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside went out to John. He had a magnetic effect on them, drawing them to himself and his preaching. John is such a striking figure. It would be easy for us to think that he is the subject of the verses we’re looking at today. But he isn’t, so we must take care not to be distracted by him.
The passage we’re looking at today is the prologue to Mark’s gospel. Mark wanted to make his readers aware of Jesus’s identify, before proceeding to tell his story. He starts his prologue with the words ‘the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet…’
So this good news doesn’t start at the time of John the Baptist; it was announced centuries earlier, through the proclamations of the prophets.
Although Mark attributes the quotation to Isaiah, he has actually taken references from Exodus and Malachi as well as content from Isaiah and rolled them all up together. The quotation contains echoes of God’s promise to his people, in Exodus, that he would send his messenger ahead of them to keep them safe and bring them into the land that had been promised to them.
After the words that Mark has attributed solely to Isaiah, come the words ‘and so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness…‘
John’s ministry is presented as being consequential to and part of God’s long-term planning of the good news foretold by the prophets. In Mark’s gospel it’s Jesus for whom the messenger prepares the way. So, we are meant to understand that it was in the person of Jesus that God fulfilled his promise to come to judge and to rescue. John the Baptist was the messenger, nothing more. His role was to connect people to Jesus and then step into the background.
From Isaiah, Mark has taken words associated with a second exodus through the wilderness:
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”
The wilderness contained great symbolism for the people of Judah. It was associated with new beginnings – the place from which the people of Israel set off to enter the land that had been promised to them. It was a place of refuge, a place of promise, the place where God tested people and the place where God’s future victory over the power of evil was expected to take place. John’s ministry took place in the wilderness and reminded the people of their ancestors’ first days as God’s chosen people.
By setting the opening verses of his gospel in the wilderness, Mark is making a statement about the significance of the events he would recount in the rest of the book.
At the time of the Exodus, God had travelled with his people, taking the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, guiding the people through the wilderness. Through the centuries God’s people had treasured the promise that, when God finally set them free once and for all, he would live personally with his people. God did that, in the person of Jesus.
But God didn’t just come to live alongside people. John the Baptist tells his audience that the one who was coming would baptise with the Holy Spirit. Baptism in those days wasn’t the sprinkling of a few drops of water. It involved being submerged, being thoroughly drenched. When we are drenched with the Spirit, God takes up residence inside us; in our hearts.
So, from the prologue, we understand that the coming of Jesus didn’t happen by accident. It was planned by God long, long ago and the Old Testament scriptures point towards his coming. Jesus fulfils the promise God made to his people that he would rescue them and give them a new beginning, but Jesus, wasn’t simply the person sent by God to carry out this mission. He was God; God embodied in flesh and bone, muscle and sinew, blood and hair.
What should our response be to the message in these verses from the first chapter of the gospel? Firstly, I think we must pause in wonder as we look at the person of Jesus. Ordinarily, December is not a time of year for stopping and reflecting. It is a time of frantic activity, although it’ll be very different this year. It’s not how any of us would have wanted preparations for Christmas and Christmas itself to be.
But, I wonder whether that difference might help us to let go of the busyness from time to time and think of the God who is so faithful and caring towards the people he created. The God who cares so much that he came to live among us and experience the pain, ugliness, hardship and desolation that are part of human existence. He gave up the adoration of the hosts of heaven to gurgle at a group of scruffy shepherds and accept dinner invitations from people who didn’t even offer conventional courtesies to their guest. He taught us that true love involves sacrifice, giving until there is nothing left to give, for the person who is loved.
That is not what the people of Jesus’s day expected of God. It’s not what many people today would expect a god to be like. It should stop us in our tracks and fill us with awe. And as we reflect in wonder on the person of Jesus, God with us, we must surely worship him, praise him, thank him, adore him.
We can worship him by living lives that honour him. Taking time to ask the person at the supermarket checkout how they are; thank delivery drivers who bring us parcels; or phone someone who you know lives alone or who is having a tough time, to check they’re OK.
And finally, as we worship Jesus we are reminded how far our lives fall short of the authentic human life he demonstrated. So we need to ask again for his transforming power. John the Baptist called the people of his day to repent: to turn away from sin and towards God. He didn’t put that demand to just a few really serious sinners; everyone was affected by sin and needed to change direction.
This Advent, as we pause and wonder and worship, let’s also ask Jesus to show us the areas of our own lives that need to change. Whatever it might be that you need to stop or change, please let me encourage you to take up Jesus’s promise of a new beginning today by bringing him your guilt and shame; to hear again the good news of God’s love and forgiveness; and to experience again his power to bring you into the glory of his eternal life.
Our readings for this week:
Luke 1:46b-55 (NIV)
‘My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
just as he promised our ancestors.’
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
- Psalm 126
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
- John 1:6-8, 19-28
Services in the church building will resume on 13 December and continue to be live-streamed on Facebook at 11am each Sunday. Please note though that should our area be moved into tier 3 restrictions, services will revert to being online only. If you wish to view our services online, you can find them here. You do not have to be a Facebook user to watch them – our services are publicly viewable. You can also view a recent service on our church website here. This week’s service will be our Christingle service, led by our Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades. We will be welcoming the Mayor, Cllr Teji Barnes, who will be attending this service accompanied by the Mayoress, Elouisa Bell.
We meet via Zoom immediately after the service for a virtual ‘coffee and chat’. The link for this will be shared in the comments on Facebook during the service.
If you are unable to join us in person or online for our Sunday services, but would like to receive a recording of them on a memory stick to watch at home, please let us know.
Church charity news
HOPE not hate fundraising update
Well done to Cathy Simpson who raised £245 for HOPE not hate through her Christmas crafts stall at the Chiltern Open Air Museum Christmas weekend event. This brings the total raised for our church charity so far to £673. Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far through the virtual sales table, silent auction and online events.
Virtual games evening – Saturday 12th December
There’s still time to make a donation to join in with our virtual games evening via Zoom on Saturday 12th December at 7.30pm in aid of our church charities. Come and join us for a fun evening of games such as Pictionary, word scatter or online bingo. Suggested minimum donation of £2, Zoom meeting details will be sent out via email once your donation has been received.
You can find more details about our church charity fundraising events and items on our virtual sales table here. Gifts and donations can be made online via Virgin Money Giving or by cash or cheque made payable to Christ Church and clearly marked for the church charity.
Church music – a response
Firstly, a bit of background. I love choral music. I am, as I write, listening to a CD of Johns Rutter’s carols and I have sung in choirs throughout my life. There is something hugely uplifting being part of a group working together to create a thing of beauty. However, as Howard always invites comment, I thought I would like to put the case for non-choral praise, particularly ‘vernacular’ singing.
Have you read any Thomas Hardy? If so, you may well be aware of the tradition of the West Gallery Band and Choir. These groups would lead the hymns and carols in parish churches, often from a gallery at the West (non-altar) end of the church. They comprised musicians from the surrounding area playing a range of instruments. Some of these belonged to the players, others to the church itself; I have a vivid memory of visiting an Essex church as a child and seeing the church’s serpent (a large, curvy woodwind instrument) hanging on the wall in the church tower long after the band stopped playing.
Hardy’s interest in these bands was personal; members of his family provided violin and ‘cello accompaniment at Stinsford church near Dorchester until replaced by a barrel organ. The tunes they played and sang were passed on aurally, as was the tradition, and were then written down for local use. Many of the bands also played for local dances and this meant that tunes ‘leaked’ from secular to sacred use. Another feature was that local tunes would be fitted to sets of words, the same words being sung to different tunes in different areas of the country. An example of this is the singing of Nahum Tate’s hymn While Shepherds Watched to the folk tune Ilkley Moor in South and West Yorkshire.
An extension of this folk tradition is the singing of carols in pubs, particularly prevalent around Sheffield and Barnsley and also in Cornwall. In the run up to Christmas people still meet up in pubs and sing with gusto, local carols, often in at least 4-part harmony. These may be familiar words to local tunes or may even have local sets of words. Again, the oral/aural tradition leads to many variations. In some cases the tradition has seeped back into churches, notably in Leigh on Sea in Essex, where a folk carol service is held annually.
So, Howard, choirs and what might be regarded as ‘fancy singing’ are great and can be hugely helpful in our worship and devotions. However, let us not forget the traditions of church music led by the common man – or indeed, woman!
“What a row! Up in the gallery the fiddlers and the ‘cellists…played like men possessed. Though she could not see them Maria could picture their red perspiring faces, and their arms sawing back and forth, and their shining eyes almost popping out of their heads with eagerness and joy. And every man, woman and child in the congregation was singing at the top of his or her voice.”
(From ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Gouge)
Every year we decorate the window of the church that looks out on the car park and footpath for Christmas. This year has been no exception, even Covid didn’t stop us.
We invited everyone to make classic Christmas foliage out of wool, felt, paper or whatever to put together as a wreath for the window. We have holly from some of the Girls’ Brigade, knitting, crochet and felt from several other members of church too. I even found the wire base for 16p at the garden centre. I had lots of fun pulling it together. A very satisfying joint effort. Thank you everyone.
If you get a chance, go and have a look. It will be there till Twelfth Night at least. The window is a lovely way to reach out to our neighbours and we are always welcoming to anyone who has an idea or wants to decorate it.
Find the words hidden in the wordsearch below:
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- Ruislip Methodist Church
- Gerrards Cross URC
Christ Jesus, the Light of the world, shine upon us;
Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, fill our life with his peace;
Christ Jesus, gift of the Father’s love, set our heart ablaze with his love;
And the blessing of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us and all we love and pray for, now and always. Amen.
(From the Methodist Worship at Home services)