Revd Elisabeth Morse
The 5 bags of Christmas
It is probably an understatement to say that Christmas has been difficult this year! We know of many who will be on their own and this is upsetting.
Of course no one wants anyone to feel left out. But it isn’t upsetting just for that, because I think it touches another nerve – that of upsetting traditions each family cares passionately about – like who visits who and how we gather together. And there can be strong feelings when anyone tries to change traditions.
For example, when do you open the presents? Do you say Santa or Father Christmas? Must we always have brussel sprouts? Must we all listen to the Queen’s speech? Do we play the same Christmas games each year? Upsetting traditions can truly spoil Christmas for some people because
the different traditions so often symbolise the kind of family we are.
We have a similar battle between the church and society. The church calendar likes to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas from Christmas Day with a solemn period of Advent beforehand. But it pretty much fights a losing battle with the four week hype before Christmas which is then all over by Boxing Day as the New Year is anticipated.
But there are Christmas traditions and symbols which define the kind of Christian family we are which are also enjoyed by everyone else. Most of these we are in danger of taking for granted – we just do them – because we have forgotten or perhaps have never been told their meaning.
So I thought it would be a good idea to remind us of a few. And I have here five bags each containing one symbol. I would normally seek the assistance of children at this point but of course I cannot this year.
BAG 1 Star Long before there were maps and compasses travellers used the stars to plot their journeys. And the great thing about stars is that you have to look up. We don’t do enough of that. But looking up to the skies, especially the night sky expands our horizons. We realise how small we are, we get a sense of proportion about ourselves and the place we occupy in the universe which helps give us a better sense of God. In Moravia the beginning of Advent is traditionally marked with an Advent star and the story of the wise men setting out on their journey to the manger in Bethlehem. It takes time to travel long distances.
BAG 2 Carols Thousands of years before people could read they sang songs, told stories and acted them out. That’s what church processions and mystery plays are all about. In mystery plays people do not just sit and watch, they become part of the story by singing and acting in them. Everyone is a performer.
A carol means a dance – a dance, holding hands in a circle – like round a camp fire. And these old camp fire songs turned into religious carols telling us the story of Christmas. ‘While shepherds watched’ – is a carol that precisely describes this – shepherds round a fire on a hillside singing, looking at the starlit sky and being joined by the angels. So when we sing carols we too get a taste of the angels singing in heaven and of the shepherds enjoying the rhythm and the warming glow carols give. And that gives us a taste of Jesus coming into the world. An event that should make us so happy we want to dance.
BAG 3 Nativity plays
This year I saw my granddaughter’s school nativity not in a school hall but on YouTube. Each year the school presents the story in a different way so that it is forever fresh. This year it was themed round the 12 days of Christmas. This story telling – shaping the story to fit the audience and the teller – is an age old tradition. I have here the Christmas story told in the shape of an Advent calendar. Matthew and Luke both tell the story of the birth of Jesus but in completely different ways. Matthew has the wise men and Luke the shepherds. Neither of them mentions a donkey – so how did that get in?
St Francis of Assisi put the donkey in the story almost 800 years ago. St Francis turned the story into a tableau. He got a real cow, a real donkey, a real baby and put them in a grotto – the equivalent of a bus shelter – by the side of the road and from then on everyone was hooked on the Christmas story. But why the donkey? At the same time as telling the story of the birth of Jesus St Francis also added bits from the story of his own birth. Around the time when he was due to be born his father went to war taking all the horses from the stables but leaving behind a donkey. With the donkey was a cow whose milk was to be used to feed the new baby. One night there was a great storm and Francis’ mother went down to the stable to soothe the cow where, it is said, she gave birth. So, it seems, St Francis drew on the story he must have been told many times as a child when he made his ‘living crib tableau’ by the roadside in 1224.
Like in mediaeval mystery plays, everyone, audience and actors alike, perform, act out the story and in so doing become part of it making it theirs.
BAG 4 Mince pies – and we don’t just involve ourselves in the story as bit players we can take it physically inside us too. Every time we take communion, the bread and wine, we act out another story, that of the Last Supper.
A mince pie was supposed to be eaten on each of the 12 days of Christmas to bring good luck for each of the 12 months of the year. Originally they were oval shaped representing the crib with the lid as a blanket and were traditionally made from 13 sweet and savoury ingredients representing Christ and the 12 apostles. And when we eat the mince pie we also should remember what St Paul described as the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, justice, generosity, self-control, the Christ-like fruits.
As you bite into a mince pie today you might like to think of the whole of Christ’s life.
BAG 5 Candle – and finally a candle. We have candles on the altar and we give a candle at every baptism – representing the light of Christ leading us. Which brings me onto my final little story. There is an old Irish tradition of placing a candle in the window to act as a beacon for the lonely and homeless – like welcoming the Holy Family when they were seeking shelter. An act of charity. Acts of charity are something many of us do more of at Christmas time. And this year has been a year when we have seen a startling contrast between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The use of Food Banks is soaring as is homelessness as people have, with no warning, been deprived of their livelihoods. So how might those of us who have not lost our jobs or our pensions, how might we in our own way follow the Irish tradition of lighting a candle for the lost and the poor? What act of charity might we do?
I will finish with a well known collect:
Stir up O Lord
The wills of your faithful people
That they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works
May be by you plenteously rewarded;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Dear All/Barn Congregations
The following items are drawn from topics discussed at the most recent PCC Barn Church, 2 December 2020 and current news as of 20 December 2020.
Vacancy (interregnum): the advertisement for the position of vicar went live on 4th December 2020. Updates from the diocese suggest a positive response and interest from a range potential candidates. Short lists and interviews are to be arranged between January and March 2020.
The Vicarage continues to be checked and is due to be refurbished – we are awaiting details from the diocese.
Church services: private prayers during lockdown were well received; thanks to Alban Clarke and Ian for the music and Paul Gregorowski for their support. Services started again on 6th December with communion by extension Richard Austen, which has been followed by Elizabeth Morse officiating at most of the following services. Despite government Tier 4 restrictions worship is allowed and a Christmas programme of services is planned – see Barn Church website for details.
Christmas events, fundraising and giving: Some small / digital enabled events are being explored and may take place in the weeks following Christmas. The usual Angel giving scheme (for disadvantaged children) will not go ahead this year and Tim Woolmer has agreed to divert giving to a similar charity. If you are interested in giving, you might like to make a donation to FORK (Feed Our Richmond Kids). This local charity works in partnership with the Vineyard and Richmond Council, running a Christmas campaign to feed under-fives at risk of food poverty. Information can be found and donations made via https://twitter.com/ForkRichmond and https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiserdisplay/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=FORK&pageUrl=1. We hope that Advent Angels will be back next year, but, in the meantime, please do consider giving to this worthwhile cause.
Platforms such as ‘Golden Giving’ (https://www.goldengiving.com/home) are being reviewed to enable giving in what has been and continues to be, a very challenging time for the Barn and the wider Diocese/Church of England.
Finance: Bernadette Bird has completed the accounts for 2019 and work on the 2020 accounts is well under way. We are grateful for the work that Bernadette has done and hope to keep simplifying reporting practices – all invoices must go to the Parish Office in the first instance.
Positive meetings have been had with the archdeacon and diocese finance team and it is hoped that these positive relations will benefit the Barn, its sustainability and our ability to honour pledge commitments to the Diocese.
Church buildings and grounds: the findings of the Quinquennial report are being applied by Matthew Pannett with work planned early 2021 including servicing heating, fire extinguishers, clearing gutters and tree pruning.
Church/Hall usage and bookings: Richard Wright looks after usage and bookings and reports that Nursery continues in the Barn Church Hall with other users potentially starting again depending on restrictions. The toddler group continues to use the Barn Church.
Diocese parish support fund/Technology: the Barn Church has received funding to improve our technology and develop our ability to record using digital technology. The funding of up to £500.00 will be used to buy a modern video camera and accessories so that services and events can be recorded or livestreamed. We are also looking into installing Wi-Fi at the Barn Church.
Diocese Green Grants/Garden: the Barn Church has received funding to improve our green credentials and continue the development of our grounds and garden. The funding of up to £1’500.00 will be used to buy a range of items designed to add to our existing flora and fauna.
Junior Church: Junior Church (older children) continues on-line with Lisa. We are reviewing ways of re-engaging the younger children and families for a safe return to junior church
APCM: The 2020 and 2021 APCMs will be held together, date, time and form of meeting to be decided at the next PCC meeting – it will be before the end of May 2021.
Date for next PCC meeting: Wednesday 27th January, 2021, 7pm via Zoom.
Thank you all for your support and good wishes – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Andrew and Beth xx
Co-Churchwarden’s, The Barn Church, Kew
With the new restrictions, there may be some confusion around what is allowed regarding worship. Therefore, we wanted to reach out to you all to discuss this.
Whilst in Tier 4, we are allowed to continue to worship and please note, we are COVID compliant at the Barn. A reminder of our Christmas services are as follows:
· 19th December: Nine carols will be available via FaceBook once the service is over https://www.facebook.com/barnkew (online event)
· 20th December: 9:30am Parish Eucharist with Revd Elisabeth Morse (Barn)
· 24th December: 6pm Joint Christmas Eve Eucharist with Bishop Richard (St.Lukes)
· 25th December: 9:30am Christmas Eucharist with Revd Elisabeth Morse (Barn)
· 27th December: 9:30am Parish Eucharist with Sister Margaret Anne McAlister (Barn)
Please see the statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Covid recovery group below:
“We recognise the increased risk we face from the coronavirus – which has already taken so many lives and has now developed a new, more easily transmissible, strain – and we recognise our duty to look out for our neighbours and protect the vulnerable. “So, as many of us enter these new restrictions, we must commit ourselves more than ever to looking out for those who are alone, to caring for those in need and to praying for our nation and world.
“We know that public worship – both in person and through remote means – has brought comfort, hope and inspiration to so many.“So we are grateful that, even in tier four, church buildings can be open this Christmas. But we urge everyone to take precautions and, especially for those in tier four, to be exceptionally careful.
“Even though attending public worship is permitted, many people may feel it is currently better they do not do so. Clergy and others who are shielding should certainly feel no compulsion. “At this time of year – even this year – we celebrate the birth of Jesus with joy and hope. Jesus came to bring light that shines in the darkness.
“We need that light now and always.” Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London
Stay healthy, safe and happy!
Beth and Andy
Church Wardens at the Barn
Click the link below to see the recording of nine carols and lessons at the Barn
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16, Luke 1: 26-38
The last candle on the Advent wreath is for Mary. But the first reading is not a prophecy from Isaiah as it has been in the previous three weeks. Instead we have a story about King David. And it is an interesting story.
David had spent his adult life constantly on the move, but now, as king, he is able to settle down. He builds himself a house; not quite a palace but a fine house made of cedar wood. And now, enjoying some respite from fighting battles, he hits on the idea of building a house for God. After all, he says, surely it is time God has a house too? So he calls the prophet Nathan, suggests the idea to him, and gratifyingly receives a positive response.
David has grand ideas. Being an extrovert he is the sort of person who finds it easier to think when throwing ideas around with other people. Nathan, however is an introvert, and introverts need to sleep on things and to remove themselves from distractions. So that night, Nathan’s head is full of questions. A house for God? Is that a good idea? God has never had a house. Ever since Israel can remember, God has been on the move, travelling with his people. And if God had a house, wouldn’t that change the nature of God? Mightn’t building a house be like trying to pin God down and keep him in one place inside four walls? Have not temples always testified more to the prestige of the one who builds it than to the divinity it is supposed to be dedicated to?
Nathan eventually falls asleep and he dreams; and in his dream God speaks, confirming all his misgivings. But God also tells Nathan something else. God does not want a house for himself, God wants to give David a house. Not a cedar palace with four walls like the one David has built for himself but a royal lineage otherwise known as ‘the house of David’. God tells Nathan to tell David ‘Your house will endure and your kingdom for ever; your throne shall stand firm to eternity.’ A son is promised. And it is from this promise that the prophets dream their messianic dreams of a peaceful kingdom that knows no end.
And now we see why the lectionary places this reading with the story of the annunciation today. The Son, the Prince of Peace, that is promised is still far into the future. As the carol goes ‘To you in David’s town this day is born of David’s line, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord and this shall be the sign:’ This is the house promised to David. A promise made like that to Abraham before him. Abraham was promised the birth of a nation and in our first reading today, David is promised he will have a house. But not a brick kind of house, instead God means a royal lineage. We are familiar with terms like the House of Windsor and the House of the Plantagenet’s, but David would not have understood ‘house’ in this way. And, like Abraham, David will not see this fulfilled in his lifetime and so must trust that God will keep his word.
And, of course, God is telling not just of a different kind of house but of a quite different kind of king. The Messiah will be both David’s descendant and the Son of God. And this new king will be quite different from other kings. This new king will model kingship as God wants it to be understood. Not a king of power but a king who serves the poor. Not a king of wealth but a king who fights the injustice of the powerful. Not a king born in a palace or a fine cedar house but a king born in a stable.
Don’t get David wrong – his desire to honour God was genuine, and he thought carefully and lovingly about the best way to do it. But he was mistaken. A physical house was about David’s need for security and control. God has no need of that and, as God explains patiently to Nathan, it is not humanity’s job to make him a home but his, God’s, job to make this world into a home for us.
And in the gospel reading we learn of the kind of home God truly wants. The angel comes to negotiate with Mary for the kind of home that God is making and, patiently, the angel reassures the bewildered girl. Mary has one question – and it is a clue to her nature. She does not demand to know exactly what God is hoping to achieve; she does not let the importance of the task she has been given go to her head. All she asks is: ‘Aren’t I a bit of a problem? Are you sure I fulfil your requirements?’
And the angel points her in the direction of her cousin Elizabeth. This young girl needs support and love and she will find it with the older woman, the one person who will understand what it is all about.
In Mary, God finds what he is looking for – a temporary dwelling place. The baby briefly carried in her womb will grow up to be a king constantly on the move, being with his people, going where they need him. This is God making his home with his people in the way he has always done.
We have a saying – if the mountain won’t go to Mohammed then Mohammed must go to the mountain. Here this could be translated as – God does not stay in one place waiting for people to come to him, instead God goes out to his people. God knows that we long for love, security, peace, fulfilment, joy – in short a home. But all these things are to be found in God, our only real home.
And having talked about David and Mary, where are we in these stories?
Well, interestingly, do you know what the word Bethlehem means? In Hebrew it means ‘little house of bread’. If you think about it, what can better symbolise God living amongst his people, being where we are, than by our receiving bread at the Eucharist?
So, in this last week before Christmas when tempers are getting frayed by government announcements and changes made to plans, we need to remember just what preparing for Christmas is about. It is not about how we decorate our houses, the food and drink we prepare or even the number of people we share the festivities with. These are the outward, physical signs that take up so much time and energy. Rather, it is about reminding ourselves – and those around us – that the focus is on the spiritual gifts like remembering someone, giving them time, generosity of spirit, allowing people to break the habits of a lifetime without recrimination – this is what makes the real welcome, the real hospitality, the sense of what ‘home’ is really about. Mary made a home in her arms for the Christ child. The shepherds gave the new little stranger a welcome by visiting him and the wise men were generous not with the gifts they brought but by honouring a family that could so easily have been overlooked.
Sausage and mash with love and laughter rather than turkey with all the trimmings – why not!?
Revd Elisabeth Morse