Friday, December 14, 2007

Countdown to Christmas

This weekend is a full one in the Church!

We decided to have our Sunday School Nativity Presentation and Carol Service on the Sunday coming. Our suspicion was that next week a lot of our congregation will be going away with the schools having finished. On top of this, many organisations are having their Christmas events this weekend. So starting tonight, there is something every moment of the weekend.

I don't know how many of you have seen Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. It is my latest favourite series. Created by Aaron Sorkin, who created West Wing (a previous favourite), it stars Bradley Whitford from the West Wing and Matthew Perry, who played Chandler in Friends (another favourite!) It is about a television programme that does topical comedy, which is recorded live each week. Matthew Perry plays the programme's writer. In his office is a clock telling him how long he has until the next episode. That's pressure!

I sometimes feel a bit like this with sermons. It can be difficult coming up with a new sermon or two every week, especially sermons that actually say something and connect with the congregation. I always feel like it at Christmas. What to say that hasn't be said so much better by others so many times before? How to preach in a way that will mean something, especially to those on the fringes of the Church who only turn up at Christmas?

The pressure was getting to me last night as I still had no ideas, which was probably why I was awake at 4.00am in the morning trying to come up with something. Then suddenly out of the blue a few ideas came. I am not claiming divine inspiration for them - although I hope God had a part - or that they are particularly brilliant! I am just relieved that I have something to work with. With sermons, I find that once I have an idea, I am ok. There is still work to do researching and writing. But as long as the idea is there, I don't mind! Not, of course, that it guarantees a good sermon.

Last night, I was so worried that I would forget the ideas I had had that I got up and wrote them down! Now, of course, I feel relieved, but tired. At the risk of boring you, let me share them here and if you think them shallow or poor, please let me know. After all, Matthew Perry in Studio 60 has a whole team of writers to go over his ideas with!

For the Carol Service on Sunday, I am going to take up something that happened last week at the Girl Guide's Carol Service. I was giving a talk on the meaning of Christmas, when a little girl put her hand up and asked, 'What have Christmas trees to do with Christmas?' What indeed? Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist, has just described himself as a 'cultural Christian' who will be singing carols this Christmas. I think this should give me something to go on.

For the Sunday before Christmas, the fourth Sunday of Advent, we will be lighting the fourth candle on our Advent wreath: the pink one for the Blessed Virgin Mary. We have a Lady Chapel here at Christ Church. Sometimes people refer to it as the Ladies Chapel, thinking it has something to do with ladies in general, rather than Our Lady in particular. Is it any wonder? It just looks like a seating area at the moment. Apparently, it used to have a painting of Our Lady in it, but one Vicar, fearing the danger of too much reverence for Mary, took it down!

A parable perhaps of what we have done with Mary in the non- Roman Church? I will be taking up the verse: 'a sword shall pierce your own heart also' and talk about Mary's pain and ours.

Christmas night is always my favourite night of the year. Each year, however, I always feel I have not been able to do it justice. I doubt that this year will be an exception. Still, I am going to take up an article I read on the BBC news website, which described how companies, responding to consumer demand, are wanting to put pictures on radio. I know! Bizarre. But now we can watch anything, anywhere on our mobiles, it is perhaps to be expected. I love radio. The best Christmas present I ever got was a Bush radio on which I used to listen to the news each night before going to sleep.

You will know the old saying about 'radio having better pictures'. I think that's true, but we do need pictures. I think you can guess where I am going with this!

For the Christmas day Eucharist, I am still thinking. Any ideas out there would be gratefully received.

Anyway, to all those of you working hard in your preparation for communicating the good news: may God give you inspiration! And may you and I both be more concerned to be faithful rather than original. For after all has been said, it is the old, old story that we are trying to tell to a new audience. And for those of you who will be listening to us, spare a prayer for us that our ideas might be good ones.

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