Clergy Letter, November Parish Magazine
By Rev’d Derwyn Williams
May I take this opportunity to wish you a happy New Year! And before you get too worried, no, I haven’t already mentally fast-forwarded to January 2016, despite already having been thinking about Christmas for some time.
I’m thinking rather about the start of the new Christian Year, on Advent Sunday, 29 November. It’s the day when our annual cycle of worship starts all over again, and the church’s seasons begin once more to take us through the different moods and attitudes that our faith opens up for us. We begin with the longing of the Advent season, the deep desire God implants within us for his kingdom to come with salvation. Then we move into the delight of Christmas, celebrating the Good News that God has made his home among us as a vulnerable child. Early in the new secular year we will begin Lent, focussing on our need to be penitent and abstinent if we are to make room for God in our lives. This of course leads up to the most intense season within the whole church year, as between Palm Sunday and Easter Day we explore the tension, bravery and sacrifice of Christ’s last days, and then the strange joy of his resurrection. That becomes our celebration for fifty days, culminating in the great feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, when we give thanks for the inspiring, comforting and empowering gift of God’s Holy Spirit.
The Church Year can be a wonderful way to grow spiritually as the seasons progress. The Bible readings teach us the varied central truths of the faith, and hymns, prayers, preaching and silence invite us to apply them to our own lives, as the weeks with their different fasts and feasts go by. And of course as well as the big festivals with their intense activity, we have the long stretches of ‘ordinary time’ when we can reflect more widely and a bit more gently on Jesus and his story.
At St Michael’s we try to bring the Christian Year alive in the way we organise our worship. The different service books we use for the seasons reflect their appropriate moods of celebration, penitence or ‘ordinariness’. When we have a Festival we turn up the ceremonial a little, for example singing the Eucharistic prayer, and the opening responses (‘The Lord be with you… and also with you’ etc.). When we keep Lent we always say the prayer of Humble access (We are not worthy to eat the crumbs from under your table…’), whereas in Eastertide we always leave it out. In many different ways we attempt to let the different times and seasons speak to us and shape us as our Christian journey progresses.
For the Church Year tells us something about time itself. It claims that time is not just ‘one damn thing after another’ until we claim our pension, or die. The Christian Seasons proclaim that time is a journey. A pilgrimage of change and discovery, made with Jesus at our side, and with God as our destination. Each season leads into the next and invites us to journey further on. And when we come back to the start of the Year, on Advent Sunday, we ought to be a little bit different from how we were a year before, if we have let time spent with God do its work.
So — I wish you a Happy New Year! And particularly, can I invite you to let Advent do its work upon you on 2015? It’s hard these days to focus on Advent’s longing and desire, and its stark honesty about death and judgment, with Christmas starting in August these days. Let’s just be honest about that. But it would be shame not to have that sense of starting again on Advent Sunday, yearning and searching for God anew. Trusting that waiting for him in patience will be rewarded when he comes. Can you make a bit of time for God in Advent this year?
Blessings from Derwyn.