For many who have been locked in since March, there was a sense of relief that we are going to be liberated for Christmas.
Just as hugging our loved ones, Christmas dinner, cramming our shopping into a short window of time, carols by candlelight and Christmas treats passed through our mind, we were given the figures of those newly infected with COVID 19 along with the figures of those who died this week and discovered that the figures are the worst since May and we may pay for Christmas by having another lock down in January.
As we come out of lockdown on the 2<sup>nd</sup> December we discover that we are in the highest tier for COVID 19 restrictions and that other than during a five day window surrounding Christmas when we can bubble with two other households, our lives will continue to be restrained and confined.
If we do meet with friends and relatives it is recommended we keep windows open to allow circulation of air. If we don’t catch COVID we may well catch our death of cold!
Pubs, hotels, non essential shops, theatres and restaurants will be closed though we can phone out for a takeaway. Board games are discouraged. Restrictions on church services, however, have been lifted, allowing, (according to the Telegraph) Christmas Day services to be held.
So we can all go to church on Christmas Day! No! Restrictions still apply, we cannot sing carols and we can only socially distance twenty people as things stand at the moment, though I gather Boris is going to make an announcement on Monday which may change plans.
Sadly, news of the November lockdown arrived after I had already written last month’s article.
I trust that we will have our usual services on Sundays and there will be a Christmas Communion on Christmas Eve. Zoom services on Thursdays will also continue except for on Christmas Eve.
We could wallow over what we cannot do this Christmas or we can do all we can to keep ourselves healthy.
The news, the weather and even the lectionary Bible Readings and my sermons lately have been depressing as we have considered the end times, cataclysmic disasters, death, judgement and the second coming of Jesus. This week, as Advent begins we begin the countdown to Christmas. Whilst the readings are still full of doom and gloom, we need to keep our souls healthy and celebrate the coming of Jesus both into our world and our lives.
After Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians about the second coming of the Lord, he finishes in chapter 5 by praying that the God of peace might sanctify them entirely and that their spirit, soul and body might be kept sound and blameless.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are totally one, at peace and whole in body, mind and Spirit have done all they can to bring peace to us. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem the angels sang, “Peace on earth.” Jesus is our Prince of Peace. When he rose from the dead he breathed on his disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” Despite all that is going on around us, God longs for our well being.
Jesus came to bring peace deep within our souls through bringing us into a relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We need not fear the awful things that are happening around us or God’s wrath because “whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
When Jesus forgives us and unites us to himself, we are sanctified and seen as holy by God. As God works in our life through his Holy Spirit, he continues to sanctify us as we become more and more like Jesus.
We can celebrate what God has done for us through Jesus this Christmas whether we come to church or stay at home. Paul gives us wonderful advice in keeping our spirit, soul and body sound.
We can remember we are part of one body of which Christ is the head and continue to phone each other up. Paul says, “Encourage the faint hearted.” We all have wobbly moments and need to know we are supported and loved at the moment. Whether our bodies are healthy at the moment or whether we are fading away, Jesus loves us and we can be joyful within because we have a bright future.
We are to “help the weak” and “be patient with all of them.” We are doing this through our giving of toys and food for those who are less well off than we are in our community. Since most of us cannot leave our homes safely and find shopping through the internet impossible we can still pray for those who are struggling.
We are “never to repay evil for evil but always seek to do good to one another and all.” Christmas has always been about not thinking about ourselves but doing good for others; blessing them with food and presents. We may not be able to buy the expensive presents we usually provide but we can all tell people we love and miss them.
Paul says, “Rejoice always.” We cannot sing and shout in church but we can at home. We can join in carols on CDS and in the media and sing out truths which pale the reality of Coronavirus into significance. We are blessed! II have been singing “I am blessed!” to the accompaniment of Mr Vegas recently. We used it as the exit music in Sue and Byron’s socially restricted wedding in September.
Karen Peck and New River’s gospel music has also been a blessing. Adrian would prefer Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” The words from scripture combined with the music lift us up to a better place. You will each have favourite Christian song and hymns.
Since we cannot have our usual nine lessons and carol service the Church of England has written a booklet based on it in with a reading and thought for the day called “Comfort and Joy.”
There is a service each week broadcast on the Church of England site. The one for Advent Sunday comes from St Martin’s in the Fields.
When listening to a service either on line or on television we can light our candles and gather around our nativity sets. If it is a service of Holy Communion, we can have a sip and taste of something we find delicious and remember Jesus is good.
We are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” As we rejoice and thank God for his many blessings his Holy Spirit will bless us and Paul says we are not to quench the Spirit.
Sadly I am not able to give you all a holy kiss this year which is Paul’s last piece of advice. May God wrap his loving arms around you and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Adrian and I wish you all a joyful Christmas. “May your spirit, soul and body be kept sound.” The peace of the Lord be with you.