Updated 22nd November 2021
Pastoral Letter from The Revd David Minns
“Hark, the herald angels sing ‘glory to the new born King’, peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled”.
I’m really looking forward to singing again those wonderful hymns and songs of Christmas - they often seem to be able to sum up in just a few words the essence of Christmas, telling the story of how God came to the world with a Saviour. Humans have got themselves into a mess, drifting far from God’s heart of love and care, creating what is often a mean and self-centred world. Into this world breaks hope - and what could be a more potent symbol of hope than a tiny baby, full of potential? This baby would grow up to be the man Jesus, who showed us the way back to God and died on a cross to make that possible. God and sinners reconciled indeed.
Our newly formed Churn Valley Community Choir has been practising Christmas songs too, learning ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas'. A lovely tune that contains the lyrics ‘someday soon we all will be together if the fates allow – until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow'. I was struck by those words and how true they ring today, so I looked the song up and discovered that they are the early lyrics to what was a melancholy wartime song written in 1943. Judy Garland had most of the original lyrics changed before she sang it in the 1944 musical 'Meet Me in St. Louis' because she found them too depressing. Later Frank Sinatra had them changed still further, altering the ‘muddle through’ line to ‘So hang a shining star upon the highest bough’ to cheer the song up some more. And somewhere the original line ‘if the Lord allows’ was changed to ‘if the fates allow’ to make it less religious.
And yet that sentiment about making the best of difficult circumstances at Christmas - ‘until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow,’still seems appropriate for the times we are living in. Last year’s Christmas celebrations were heavily restricted, with families who would normally gather together for a few days kept apart by regulations and the fear of harming the health of loved ones. For many of us a new Christmas tradition started - the ‘Zoom’ Christmas gathering. I suspect that there will be quite a few families keeping up that tradition this year too.
Most of us have Christmas traditions formed over the years; usually fond memories of family gatherings, presents and food and the Queen on the TV, crackers and silly hats. Often, we smile at thoughts of relatives who have now died but who live on in our hearts and in faded photos, holding wine glasses aloft as they wish us a happy Christmas.
In our house our Christmas decorations include a torn and battered cardboard and shiny paper holly wreath made by our son at nursery over 30 years ago; it comes out every year. And my parents have a similar one made by me! A shiny paper covered star within a painted and glitter cardboard circle. It gives a clue to my age to mention that I christened it after my favourite pop star of the time - ‘Ringo’!
Your family Christmas traditions may include a trip to church at some point over the holidays - a Carol Service or Nativity, or Midnight Mass or Christmas Day family service. You’ll find all of those services on offer in our churches this year and you’d be most welcome if those haven’t been part of your family tradition in the past. Maybe this might be a good year to start!
Christmases change according to where we are in life - our life circumstances - and it is right to add new traditions. That Zoom call may well be connecting us with family members we would not usually have seen.
The one unchanging thing about Christmas is the timeless message that God sent his only son into the world, to take on human form as a vulnerable baby and to turn our hearts back to God. Though for many the message may be blurred by the distractions of flying snowmen, jolly bearded gentlemen and repeats of 'Only Fools and Horses', still the story shines through in those glorious carols - of angels announcing Good News to shepherds and a stable where the Son of God lies, that precious gift from God to the world.
That message of hope, that God has not forgotten us but has gone to great lengths to come to us, seems to be more important than ever in these strange days.
I do hope to see you at one of our Christmas services and into the New Year. But whatever your Christmas tradition may be, please do ‘have yourself a merry little Christmas’. And here’s to the hope of an even better year ahead.