Pre-carols Communion yesterday morning. Interesting congregation, the committed who would be coming three times in one day (church wardens, organist and key laity), those going away who could make the morning but were going somewhere else after lunch, those who always come in the morning and were not bothered at all about the carol services and those for whom church was their lifeline.
It is this last group which made me reflect yesterday. I wrote a few days ago about creating community, and for at least seven people attending yesterday, all living alone, the local church was their community. It was here they met their friends, shared their problems, gained some joy in their week.
I chatted to a group of three old ladies about their Christmas - the first told me that her daughter had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had only a limited time to live. With the in-laws staying at Christmas they had no room for her. She had visited a couple of days ago - a journey of around 30 miles but without a car - 3 buses and a train each way - 3 hours travel. Christmas Day would be spent at home. The second lady told me that her son had recently had to downsize to live in a flat - again no room for anyone else at Christmas, she too was going to stay home alone. The third was going to her neice's this year - she did not do anything last year, for Christmas was a sad time. Her husband, son and brother had all died the year before one after another just before Christmas.
Loss, loneliness and the struggles of family life were all present in that short conversation. It made me think, not only how for those three people (or those around them) Christmas would not be how our media and culture would like to portray it, but also if this was 3 out of 20 adults, how many others are there up and down our country. It made me realise how how important for these three the message of God's love was, which I had feebily preached only half an hour earlier.
The Christian message of Hope, in the baby born in Bethlehem and who is Emmanuel - God with us, is ever more important today, for in a way all the wrapping, the glamorous present orgie, the bright coloured Christmas jumpers and the flashing fairy lights, just masks much of the darkness around. Yesterday I was not in prosperous Buckinghamshire - with its glazed ham, mulled wine and canapés. This was a place where the effects of hardship, struggle and isolation were felt on a daily basis. Much forgotten in some places. It is encouraging that some of our larger churches are getting involved with food banks and credit unions, for it brings the gospel into focus.
I would like to say there is a welcome in every church for those seeking God's love and fellowship. That is God's way, and for those who do not venture there - prayers nonetheless. Let's all look outwards these next three days and see how, even in a small, way, we can bring some light into the darkness around.
What if..... we each gave away something to day ?