This edition of Focus addresses the months of December and January, the two coldest and darkest months of the year. Historically these have been months to be feared by people living in this country; months when the cold could be bitterly cold, when ice froze not just on the windows but on the bedspread. It was only in the 1960s with the introduction of central heating that families no longer needed to huddle around the open fire keeping their fronts warm while their backs shivered from the cold draughts that blew around the house.
I suspect that, today, some families in this country hardly notice winter; snug in their cosy draught-proofed houses with heating and hot water on tap even a journey to the supermarket is facilitated by de-icing and air-conditioning units. For some it can be hard to recognise the extremes of the season. But I'm sure many older readers remember what it felt like to be cold, dark and, yes, hungry and how they looked forward with hope and expectation to spring and the joy of warmer, lighter days and more food to eat.
Hope, expectation and joyfulness - those are the characteristics that mark the Christian celebration of Advent and Christmas. Advent - the four weeks before Christmas - is a time when the church meditates on the state of the world with its darkness and violence, at the coldness which people can show one another, and considers its hopes for the future of the human race, hungry for a better way for ourselves and for future generations.
How can we bring an end to the ever more sophisticated ways we have of killing one another, wars over resources, mass starvation, poor healthcare of most of the world's inhabitants, the greed of the wealthy, fear of strangers, pollution, climate change? An end to injustice has been the great hope of people from time immemorial - the world groans for such a change - for someone who will show us how to bring about change.
Surely, it's too much to hope for, too much to expect.
But the Christian message is that in the birth of Jesus, at Christmas, God does change things. That is exciting, that is Good News, and it is why so many of our Advent and Christmas carols are filled with joy: 'Hark the glad sound!' 'Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come', 'A great and mighty wonder', 'Hark! The herald angels sing glory to the new-born King', 'Joy to the world, the Lord is come'.
Born a little baby, Jesus came and showed a diff erent way, a way based on love, peace and justice for all people; and if the world is not to spiral into more and more despair perhaps His way is the one to try. It's not easy; I quoted G K Chesterton last month, well, here he is again "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried".
Christmas brings Good News, a message of joy for the world; but maybe you have missed it, maybe you have failed to be excited. Perhaps, like our experience of the seasons we are too comfortable, too distracted by modern commercial Christmases, to see the excitement that the message of Jesus brings to many millions of people throughout the world. Come along to church this Christmas and be awakened to the joy.
I look forward to seeing many families from our villages over Christmas at our Carol Services, our Candle Services (come early for the 4.15pm Service), at Midnight Mass and on Christmas Day. Details of all our services are on the Christmas Card delivered with Focus. Whichever service you come to you will receive a warm welcome and I hope that you will experience the joy of the Christian message.
Gordon - Reader at St Mary's Eaton Bray with Edlesborough
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.