image: Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)
Beginnings and Endings
Cesare Pavese: “The only joy in the world is to begin”
Life is full of beginnings. There is our own personal beginning, our birth but there are also many other life events that we see as beginnings in their own right. Such as our first day at school, the start of a new job, the first day in a new house, or the first day of retirement. There are also of course the faith orientated life events such as Baptism, receiving Communion, and for some, confirmation to the Church of England. But what about the new beginnings we miss without taking a second thought, the kind of event that we skip past because we don’t see its importance at the time; but only see its real importance later in our lives. It might be a passing chat with a stranger in a coffee shop, a moment in time that marks the start of a lasting relationship. It might even be something like a missed train or a wrong bus, which begins a cycle of events that in turn brings about a new beginning of sorts. Life is jammed packed full of new beginnings.
Although life is full of beginnings we also face at various times many endings. Or at least what we might experience as endings. The most vivid and emotional of these of course is seeing someone we love pass away. And although it is often said that in every ending there is a new beginning, when we experience profound loss we have no idea what that new beginning looks like.
One of the many amazing things about Christmas is that we celebrate the birth of Jesus already knowing how it ends, or at least how we think it ends. What I mean is Jesus came to earth as one of us, and he came to earth with a particular mission and part of that mission was that he should die, at a particular time in history. So in many ways when we celebrate Christmas we cannot do so in isolation from the rest of God’s story of salvation, we must in fact remember his birth and his death and his resurrection. And therefore tonight is really Christmas morning, Good Friday and Easter day, remembered explicitly as we come together tonight to break bread in the presence of God. The experience of communion in this way reminds us that beginnings and endings are often rolled into one - that celebration and suffering are frequently intertwined, that sometimes mourning accompanies merriment and fear with festival.
In the passage at the start of John’s Gospel - John describes God’s plan of salvation as an act of creation through the Word - Jesus Christ, an act of salvation that encompasses pain and suffering as well as the joy and celebration. It is the cosmic life event, God’s word made flesh to bring God’s plan into existence. It mysteriously embraces every beginning and ending we can think of. God’s word came to bring life, in sense to be the beginning of beginnings and the ending of endings
In deliberate parallel to the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence. God’s word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. Just in the same way God called creation into being with his voice so in his ministry Jesus speaks the word and it happens: forgiveness and judgment, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Everything broken and fallen, sinful and diseased, called into salvation by God’s spoken word. It is this that we celebrate tonight. We celebrate the knowledge that through the incarnation - God coming into our world in the form of Jesus - we are brought into the same space that God occupies. God has moved in to our neighbourhood.
I said at the start life is full of beginnings, those that stand as major milestones in life, but also those beginnings that slip by unnoticed. Surprisingly it is the beginnings that go unnoticed that often lead to the most amazing events in our lives. A missed bus can lead to a divine encounter, a surprise meeting could lead to a deep and meaningful relationship, a casual remark from a friend could awaken a spiritual calling. All of which could easily go unnoticed if we aren’t attentive to God’s activity in the world.
In the same way God’s saving plan, his act of creation through Jesus Christ, began as an ordinary event in a small backwater town in Palestine. A lowly, humble, seemingly unwelcome place was the birth place of God’s Chosen One. And Mary - an unassuming woman, in faith became the divine portal for the outworking of God’s redeeming light. You see the Incarnation was never intended to impose salvation on God’s people. In the beginning was meekness, humility, humbleness and vulnerability not triumphalism or conquest. Jesus throughout his ministry narrates salvation into being through leisurely conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, and passionate prayer. Never imposing his divinity over the freewill of God’s people. Just simply coming into our neighbourhood to be flesh and blood, to be one of us. But do we notice his arrival?
I wonder how many people passed by that modest dwelling place in Bethlehem without noticing, I wonder how many people the shepherds spoke to on their way to see the babe – and if they had spoken to others – I wonder how many believed what they said, I wonder how many carried on without taking notice of that new beginning.
I wonder whether the magi shared the purpose of their pilgrimage to others – and again I wonder what the reaction would have been.
What is our reaction on this Christmas morn? Will we pass by this day, this new beginning without noticing the profound difference it could make in our lives?
And what will be our reaction to those other small beginnings in our lives, the ones that can go so easily unnoticed, but where God is possibly working out his plan for us. Because what the Incarnation teaches us is that God actually wants us to miss the train once in a while; he wants us to get on the wrong bus. He wants us to step outside of our normal routine just for a moment so we can take notice of what’s going on. He is asking us to stop and seek out Christ among us, to hear his call like the shepherds did, to look for the signs like the magi did, to step out in faith and trust God like Mary and Joseph did. To praise the babe in our midst as the angels did.
May the Incarnation mark for us the beginning of beginnings, the ending of endings, may the Alpha and the Omega, the word made flesh enter our lives – and may we respond, may we welcome the babe and allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives - not just today but in every new beginning to come.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God, and the word became flesh and blood. Amen.
Way before Christianity became a tradition, before it was associated with buildings, budgets, and missions, even before it was associated with such things as crusades, colonisation, and televangelism, it was a radical nonviolent movement promoting a way of life that enlivened people and brought a new kind of hope to the margins of society. Before Christianity was an institution it was a movement, before it was a movement it was a dream, before it was a dream it was a Word.
During Advent we are reminded of our own movement toward Christmas, our travelling toward the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, God incarnate. God in the flesh. And in Advent we are reminded that in the greater story of humanity we keep moving toward that time when he will come again. Christianity has always been the ‘Way’, the road on which we travel, and therefore it is a movement to see the world differently, and not just to dream that things could be different but to live as though they can be different, and will be different.
Many of you will have heard that the Truro Lifehouse, a project to radically redevelop the community facilities at All Saints Highertown, has received support and funding through Cornwall Council’s Langarth Investment Fund. This support means we can now press on with the work to redevelop the facilities so we can open in early 2021. As you can imagine the team behind the project is thrilled. It has been 3 years in the making and has involved many people. Residents of Highertown, Malabar, Threemilestone, Gloweth and Truro have been involved, many community support groups and organisations such as Truro Foodbank, Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank, Alcoholics Anonymous, Acts 435, and Truro Memory Café have all helped with the design work. It has also seen support from students at Exeter University Business School and the Design and Architecture students at Falmouth University.
The vision for the building is to support the existing and growing communities around us, to support people who live beyond Highertown, right out to the new residents moving in to Langarth. And more specifically, to have a building that attends to the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities by offering a space to meet. Whether it be for a cuppa in the community café, care in the changing places facilities, a moment of quiet in the sensory garden space or through the welcome people receive from a purposefully designed dementia friendly environment, we hope those that find life most difficult will feel truly welcomed.
Along with the funding from Cornwall Council we have also secured funding from the Church Commissioners to appoint a new Children and Families Leader, a new Youth Leader, and a Social Justice Missioner who will all work hard to extend the benefits of the new facility to our neighbouring communities such as Threemilestone and Truro. The team at the Truro Lifehouse will be keen to work with the local schools, other churches and other community facilities like Threemilestone Community Centre to help reach the people we all care about.
For those that aren’t aware All Saints Highertown is the parish church for Malabar, Copperfields, Bissoe, Baldhu, Gloweth, Threemilestone, Greenbottom and Langarth. And therefore, we expect to support and serve the people of these communities.
The Truro Lifehouse has never just been about the building it has always been about people and life, hence its name. Before it was a building, it was a design, before it was design it was a collection of ideas, before it was an idea it was a movement; a movement to reach the people who are too often forgotten and unheard. Have a look for yourself www.trurolifehouse.uk and let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you.
Along with the Truro Lifehouse, Threemilestone Primary School are also set to receive funding to help establish a new hall facility, which is fantastic news for everyone connected with the school. And because of the passionate commitment to her community, Cllr Tudor has also secured further support for the development of community infrastructure for the village centre of Threemilestone. This has been the result of a great deal of hard work on her part and will ensure Threemilestone continues to get support through the Langarth Master Planning process.
Lastly, we are still fundraising for the Lifehouse Project. In June 2020 we will be running the Coast to Coast Half Marathon. Why not join our team and run for your Lifehouse! We need runners who are willing to help raise £100 each, so get in touch.
May you all have a blessed and joy-filled Christmas season, and may you know blessing of Jesus, who came to bring life, life in all its fullness.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
Samaritans 116 123
Cruse Bereavement Support Helpline 0808 808 1677
Premier Christian Helpline 0300 111 0101
The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2)
We have all experienced darkness.
We have all failed to see.
We have all hidden in the shadows.
We have all reached for the comfort of the night.
And some have experienced all these things with severe intensity.
Some have been so overwhelmed by darkness that even a pin prick of light, seen with open eyes, can be profoundly life changing.
Some have been to the very bottom of the darkest pit. Where death seems all too close, and tragically for some, has even felt appealing.
The fact of the matter is, in our communities there are people that feel just like this, right now. And yet, at Christmas, the world talks of light as if every festivity, every meal time, every shopping trip and every candle lit can make everything better, everything lighter. They don’t. For those who suffer with depression, low-self esteem, or stress; for those who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones; for those whose families are divided, or even harming, Christmas comes like the darkness. In fact for many of us, even if we do not share these same challenges, Christmas can feel heavy not light.
I was sat in the barbers on Friday waiting to have my haircut. A young man was in the chair ahead of me, he was talking to the barber about Christmas. This young man, probably about 22 years old was expressing his severe dislike of Christmas. “It is stressful.” He said. “I don’t have the money. There is too much expectation and not enough time.” He even went on to say, “It is the one time of the year where I feel the most hurt.”
Christmas comes like the darkness.
How can we take the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7) seriously? Especially when he says, ‘the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.’ What light? The latest John Lewis advert? The Black Friday glitzy adverts? The lights of late-night shopping? What light?
The message from Isaiah is clear. For those that sit in darkness, or fear, or failure, or want: rescue is coming!
For Christians this news of rescue comes in the shape and form of a child. This is the single reason the church is gathered on Christmas Eve: “a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”
For this child is the gift. This child is our light, our rescue, and our good news. When the church is at its best, and it is offering what it is called to offer, it takes its role as the stable and manger, cradling the child in its embrace with the world, in the embrace of our aching human hearts.
After all, it is for this light, this child given to us, that our painters have painted, our musicians composed, our architects designed, our martyrs died, our healers healed, our activists agitated, and our preachers preached. [Nancy Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, 2006]
More good works have been inspired by this child than any other. And yet more and more feel the pressures of Christmas and what it has become. So what can we say?
"It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
This is as true for us, as it was for Isaiah. Think of the darkness of the womb before new life meets the world. Think of the darkness of the tomb before that first Easter morn. Think of the darkness of the early morning shadows before the sun rises. Think of the darkness of the blind man’s gaze before the miraculous deeds of Jesus returned his sight. Think of the darkness you have witnessed yourself, before hope replaced it with light. At Christmas we must always remember that the light has come, and the light is coming.
And so rather than ask where the light is? Why not ask who the light is?
Ironically, in a season that is so filled with light, - Christmas trees, festive street lights, fireworks, candlelit Christmas dinner tables and the like, it can still end up feeling as though Christmas comes like the darkness. It can be a very difficult time for many many people. But when we ask the question – 'who is the real light?' then we can look beyond the many lights of the season, and see the one true light, the light that has come to enlighten everyone.
Jesus is indeed the light of the world. It is only his word and his message that can suppress the darkness from our lives. You can have as many Christmas lights, shopping days and inspirational adverts as you like, but unless we seek the one who is the true light, then Christmas will always be less than what it was meant to be.
And the third, and last thing is to say that it is only through Him, Jesus, that we can overcome the darkness in our lives. In the symbolic battle between light and darkness, of which the bible refers to frequently, the moment we think we can manage with our own light and strength, is the moment we are in danger of losing the fight. In my experience, and from what I have witnessed in the lives of others, those that have sought the light of God, and who have welcomed the Christ child into their lives, have also admitted in the same breath that they cannot do it alone. It is that same moment that light truly comes, and they receive the power to overcome darkness. Once we come to believe that a light greater than ourselves can restore us and rescue us, then we do indeed walk in the light of Christ.
For the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.
If you know someone who is really struggling this Christmas, who might also be suffering with depression or anxiety, or a deep sense of loss then please make sure you encourage them to talk to someone about it. Create some space for them, in the midst of the busyness of Christmas, so they have permission, to feel and to be heard. For those who need more urgent support, go with them to see there GP, help them pick up the phone to the Samaritans 116 123, or phone a bereavement support line like Cruse Bereavement Support Helpline 0808 808 1677 . For when we receive the light of Christ in our lives, we can share that same light with others.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Mr Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: "Watson, look up at the sky, and tell me what you see." Watson replied: "I see millions and millions of stars." Holmes said: "And what do you deduce from that?" Watson replied: "Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life." And Holmes said: "Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent."
Sometimes when we read the bible or hear it read, we try so hard to find the deeper truth that we miss the obvious, staring us right in the face. We are just like Watson, gazing up at the mystery of God’s word and missing the everyday truth of the gospel. And Christmas is no exception – at Christmas time we try and attend to the deeper truth of God Incarnate, Emmanuel, the Son of God coming to the earth and all that might mean, as a kind of protest to the commercial machine that Christmas has become, but we still miss the obvious.
At Christmas time we hark back to a moment in history, when something remarkable and miraculous happened long ago, imagining what it might have been like if only we had been there, and what it might be like when he comes again, but yet we still miss the obvious.
At Christmas time we attempt to say something about Christian hope, the deeper truth of God’s promise, that on the night when Jesus was born a new kingdom came into being. And these first days of God’s plan for salvation occurred in a humble setting in the middle of Palestine. In a dimly lit stable, God began the restoration of humanity. This new creation, the birth of God’s Christ, fulfilled an age old prophecy that began in a garden under a tree… where two people took their own path before God’s… despite all this, despite the rich tapestry of faith and tradition, despite the revelation, the life changing story of God coming to the world… we still miss the obvious.
None of these things, history, hope and the nature of Jesus are unimportant – in fact they are truly central to the Christmas story, but these things without the obvious are at best, just concerns for theologians and philosophers.
Christmas was never meant to be something that we only look back on, without somehow attending to the Christmas that is right in front of us. Christmas was never meant to just be about a miraculous night in Bethlehem, but was meant for the ordinary moments in our own lives today and tomorrow. The tent was the thing that Watson missed, but for many of us, the thing that is missing in our Christmas’ today are those things that are left unspoken of. Like the fact that there are family and friends that we love but see no longer, or the financial pressures that Christmas can bring, or the anxiety we feel when so much expectation is placed on making Christmas look and feel right, or the depression that some feel due to loneliness, even when in a room full of family. This is the obvious, and yet it is missed so often.
My father passed away 9 years ago, and each year since there has been a missing chair at the table on Christmas Day. It is at times like at Christmas we deeply miss those we love and see no longer. Amid the joy and merriment of the Christmas story the obvious that is so often missed by the world, is indeed the pain, and loneliness that many of us feel, in the Christmas today. And this reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus came not for accolades, gifts, nostalgia or tradition – he came for the broken-hearted, the lonely, the forgotten, the homeless, the mourning, the widow, the poor and the despised.
Jesus was born in a backwater town of no significance, surrounded by animals, adored by shepherds, cared for by a teenage mother embarrassed and despised by her culture for being an unmarried mother.
The message of Christmas is the truth that Jesus was born so that God could show how much he loves us. To say ‘I am here’, I feel your pain.
I will like you, watch loved ones die, I will like you, weep at the grave of friends, I will like you share in the hurt of the world when I walk to Calvary. God stepped into our world so that love could win, over the law, our pain, our loss and even our death.
The obvious truth of Christmas which is so often missed in the sparkle and glitter of the season, is that God didn’t come just for the privileged, the religious, the blessed and joyous, he came for those who hurt. The Good News of Christmas, and Jesus’ birth is that when we are looking up at the stars, or out at the world, wondering whether we are alone, we can truthfully say at all times, we are not. God is with us.
Prior to Jesus’ birth, the people of God had heard and read in scripture four words repeated time and time again. In the book of Genesis, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Haggai, God says to his people ‘I am with you’. At Christmas these words come off the page of scripture and into our lives – Jesus is God with us, then, now and always.
May you know the peace of the God child, as your Saviour, the one who knows you and loves you always. Amen
Revd Jeremy Putnam
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you, Do not fear, for I am with you;
Advent is here and Christmas is just around the corner. Our shops have been displaying Christmas merchandise and promotions for what seems like ages. Carols and Christmas songs have been playing over the instore Muzak systems, children have been preparing for nativity performances, and parent and grandparents have been stocking up on the perfect Christmas gifts for months. If it weren’t for the accuracy of our calendars, we’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had already arrived. The church doesn’t help either – we’re advertising our Christmas services on the next page! We also make the mistake of talking about Advent and Christmas in the same breath – look again for a good example on the next page. But here’s the rub – Advent, although connected, is not actually the lead up to Christmas, Christmas is the lead up to Advent. When Advent is done well the Church invites the world to consider its pain and sorrow – with one finger pointing toward Jesus as the peacemaker and judge. As I’m sure many will know Advent is about when the world is finally put right, when Jesus will come again as Judge to fulfil what he has already begun, to bring justice, fairness, equality, peace and a new life for all.
Advent and Christmas nowadays feels rather marketed. And I’ve found myself getting more and more frustrated that the message is lost in amongst the sentimental and contrived TV ads and well-dressed garden centres. Now before you say – oh come on Jeremy get with the Christmas Spirit! I do.. I really do. Like many of us, I get caught up in the whole wonderful delight of the Christmas season. I love the music, the John Lewis and M&S adverts, I love driving passed houses lit up with a thousand Christmas lights, and seeing the lights come on in Boscawen Street. It is marvellous. But there is always a part of me that keeps in mind what Christmas, and for that matter, what Advent is really about… it is about the broken-hearted, the rejected, the forgotten, the lonely, the refugee, the poor, the homeless, the mourning, and the persecuted – all of these are represented in the person of Jesus. Unfortunately, Christmas has become something that only the privilege celebrate, but the story of Christmas and the promise of Advent is a promise for everyone not just a few.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
We celebrate Christmas, and the promise of Advent so that we can look back and look forward to the moment when Jesus crawls into the play pen so the world can know the love of God. I pray that your Advent and Christmas will be filled with joy, love and peace, and that you truly know the love of God. Revd Jeremy Putnam
If you were playing a word association game and someone started with the word ‘Advent’ then it’s likely the next word spoken will be ‘Calendar’. Don’t you just love Advent Calendars? Every day during Advent you get that wonderful sense of journey and anticipation as you open each door, counting down the days. And what’s more, behind each door there’s often a little message about the Christmas story, oh, and of course… a little chocolate treat too. Marvellous!
Advent and Christmas is a time of waiting and a time of promise. It is also a time for gifts. Isn’t it true that the real joy of gifts - given and received - is the wait and the promise? It might be difficult to appreciate a gift when there is no expectation, hope or surprise? At Christmas the Church gets a chance to tell both stories, the one about hope, promise and expectation; as well as the story of fulfilment, joy and new life. The problem however is that the world is not very good at waiting. I suppose we’re good at queuing, but when it comes to the material things in life, we often want to take the waiting out of wanting.
The ‘buy now – pay later’ culture is the new moto of our time and if we’re not careful it can slip into to our faith and spirituality too. My hope is that this Advent will be a time of great hope and anticipation and that the waiting for you will be a time to reflect on the truth of Christmas and Emmanuel, the coming of Jesus.
Whilst there are two stories of Advent, of waiting and wanting, there are also two stories of Christmas. The church looks to tell the story that impresses, captures attention; the story of the Holy Family, the magi, the angels and shepherds. Then there is the story that is rooted in fragility, pain, fear and forgiveness, the story of Herod, the story of a desperate world in need of salvation. The story of a simple refugee family looking for shelter, and of perfect love found in the squalor of a borrowed stable. My job is to tell both stories, but it pains me to say that I think the church all too often shies away from telling the latter. Is the Christmas story really just about the wonder and awe we see displayed in our cards and gift wrapping, or is there more?
Part of the problem might be in the kind of news we are used to seeing. It’s harder to find good news stories nowadays. Reporters look for the dirty, and gritty stories of our time, and rarely give column inches to so called ‘good news’. The unconscious reaction of the church has been to readdress the imbalance by telling the good news story of Christmas but by leaving out the rough and gritty bits. The problem is, this version of Christmas is neither a good ‘news story’ nor ‘The Good News’ story.
Our lives are not neatly packaged; God doesn’t ask for our glittery and polished story, he delights in knowing our whole story and loves us for it. In the same way the world doesn’t need a neatly packed Christmas Story, it needs the messy, gritty, dirty Christmas. The one that reflects the fragility of the world, the one that honours the pain some people feel at Christmas. The one that acknowledges that some of us will be mourning, struggling, homeless and lonely. The truth is that Christmas was always for them, as well as for you and me.
Why not join us in telling the real Christmas story this year, and may God bless you and all who you love. Revd Jeremy Putnam.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.