Monthly letter from our minister
Each month our minister Simon, or his assistant Hannah, writes the introductory letter to our Church News magazine. The latest letter is reproduced here.
Previous letters can be viewed by following the links below.
The Advent and Christmas
season is a time of songs and singing -
and I am not simply referring to the Christmas songs that have been
playing in our shops for some weeks! One only has to look at the often pained
features of the staff enduring them all day, to see there are limits to this
aspect of Christmas jollity. I mean, of course, the wonderful Advent hymns that
we will soon be singing, and the much-loved carols that we are eagerly
anticipating. You will find within the pages of this month’s magazine, details
of different opportunities for some joyful carol singing.
For us, music and song is a vital part of our Christmas
celebrations, and we give thanks to hymnwriters and composers for timeless
words and melodies, and to our musicians who bring them to life for us today.
The heartfelt singing of the purposes of God, revealed in
the birth of Jesus, can also be found within the Christmas story itself - with
angels and various characters all bursting into song. Perhaps the most
well-known of these is Mary’s song, the Magnificat, wonderfully put to music in
the hymn “Tell out my soul” by Timothy Dudley-Smith (among others).
The context of the song is fascinating; sung by Mary, who is newly pregnant with God’s Saviour, and on a visit to Elizabeth who is a little bit ahead of Mary in her pregnancy; she carries John the Baptist in her womb. Mary is very much the junior in this relationship-
Elizabeth is much older, a wise woman of God, and with
more weeks of baby bearing behind her, better able to advise on morning
sickness and swelling feet. Yet it is young and inexperienced Mary who breaks
into song, to proclaim the significance of the moment.
This joy and confidence is all the more remarkable when you
reflect on Mary’s rather precarious position in society. She is pregnant, but
not yet married, and has a story to tell to explain her pregnancy that few will
find credible. It seems sensible to assume that Mary rushes off to take refuge
with Elizabeth - from all the awkward
questions and pointing fingers she knew she would have to endure.
The American writer, Barbara Brown Taylor, whose books of
sermons I cannot recommend highly enough, writes of Mary “singing ahead of
time”, and notes that her song is written not in the future tense but in the
past tense. She is not singing about what God is yet to do, but about what God
has already begun to do. She sings of God’s promises as if they have already
All Mary has, is her incredible willing-ness to believe that
God has chosen her to be part of whatever may happen next; and that, whatever
it may be, it will be awe-inspiring. This amazing faith in God is enough to
lead her to burst into song, before she knows if everything will turn out fine.
She sings ahead of time of how God never forgets us and never forgets the promises he has made to us. God does not overlook the
humble, hungry or helpless; he is not only concerned with the rich and the
powerful. Indeed, God favours the least, for these, so often overlooked and
marginalised, are the ones who need God most, and are often the most
appreciative of God’s grace.
When this Advent and Christmas we join in with Mary’s song, we too sing ahead of time - in faith that God never forgets us. If your life is anything like mine, then there will be questions and uncertainty within it, and I cannot yet be sure that everything will turn out fine. Yet this Christmas, I can still sing joyfully like Mary - because I see in the birth of Jesus, that God is true to his promises, and has already begun to bring his love and peace into our lives. God has looked upon us with favour, and will not turn us away; he remembers our name, and has already done great things to help us.
Will you sing with me this Christmas?