if you are likely to read the December edition of St M's Parish Magazine! It's my month to write the clergy letter, and fresh from my considerations about ways to foster a truly inclusive, all-age church, I'm writing about the role of children.
First, a little background, that might be useful.
This year for the first time we're combining services on Christmas morning, so that those who habitually worship at 10.00 in an atmosphere of adult restraint and those who gather at 11.30 to worship in reckless informal abandon will meet in the middle, with a Family Eucharist at 10.30 which we hope will enable all constituencies to encounter and celebrate the love of Christ.
We'll use robes, incense, processions - essentials of any major celebration at St M's - but we will invite children to join us in our journey around the church, will make our teaching interactive and multi sensory, and do everything in our power to help them to participate in the festivities and to bring their own worship to the newborn King.
So, my letter is in part an attempt to prepare the ground for this whole-church celebration (the main preparation will be some very intense and focussed prayer - it seems to me that quite alot rides on this service).
Anyway - here's what I said
Somehow we seem to be here again – on the edge of Advent. Bracing ourselves with varying degrees of enthusiasm for some weeks of frenzied shopping, of reconnecting with people we'd all but lost track of, of consuming indecent quantities of almost anything you might care to mention.
And each year, in the churches we try desperately to restrain this headlong rush, to suggest to people that Advent is a time of spiritual as much as material preparation. We try to issue an invitation to step aside from the tide of determined shoppers, to take time out to simply be, and to know ourselves beloved whether or not we’ve assembled all the proper ingredients for the “perfect Christmas”. But this year, I’m going to leave Advent to take care of itself, for you’ll all make your own decisions about how you want to spend it, which elements are truly essential.
Instead, I’m going to head straight for the festival that beckons…straight for Christmas Day itself. “Christmas is really for the children” is a well-worn saying -and of course there’s much to delight any child, from the candle-lit wonder of Christmas Eve to the feverish unwrapping of stocking gifts far too early on Christmas morning - and so much more besides…
But beyond all that is the Child at the heart of Christmas, the Child whose birth we celebrate, the Child who was not just the most amazing Gift of all time, but a real flesh-and-blood baby arriving in the most difficult of situations. A refugee born out of wedlock, crying in the cold of an outbuilding in an occupied town.The Child born to challenge and to subvert the easy comfort of the world. The Child who turned history upside down.
We tend to lose sight of just how much disruption Christ’s birth caused, and continues to cause in our world. We try to assimilate it, to make it part of the prettiness of our celebrations. We sing about an idealised “infant holy, infant lowly” “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”
and this sort of unreality makes us strangely impatient with real live children behaving as real live children do, when they come into range of our adult celebrations.
Clearly, that’s not good for us. When we come together as God’s family, we need each other…If we’re divided in worship, our worship is incomplete, so much less than it could be. We need the excitement of our children, their clarity of vision that can cut straight through the inessentials, and offer us fresh insights into the reality of God…We need their spontaneity, their enthusiasm…Sometimes, perhaps, we need to be disturbed by them, jolted out of our familiar comfort. Of course, it’s not a one-way process. We need to learn new ways of worship from our children, but sometimes we have treasures to share with them ; the awe and wonder that can silence even the most hardened cynic at Midnight Mass, the moments of mystery when we grasp once again that the Child in the manger is one and the same with the Man on the cross.
We need to be together as we celebrate the Christmas mysteries…for the church is a family where all belong, all are welcome – whether noisy toddler or homeless adult, befuddled by drink, or those friends and neighbours whose presence in Christ’s family we take for granted week by week.
Christmas is not “really for the children”. Christmas is for each and every one of us to celebrate together. May it be a blessing to you when it comes.